Despite no statewide races topping the ballot, turnout in November’s midterms surged in North Carolina compared to 2014, rising from 44 percent to 53 percent and adding nearly eight hundred thousand additional votes. 

The top-line reason is obvious: Antipathy toward Donald Trump created lots of enthusiasm, particularly in the state’s urban areas; in the Triangle, for instance, Wake, Durham, and Orange Counties all saw turnout rates rise by 10 percent or more, as did Mecklenburg County. That’s how Democrats broke the Republicans’ General Assembly supermajorities (though they didn’t win outright majorities despite earning more votes) and defeated two of the GOP legislature’s constitutional power grabs. 

But beneath the surface lie some interesting demographic and political shifts, according to a new report from Democracy NC. Specifically, the improved turnout was driven by young voters, Hispanic and Latino voters, Asian-American voters, and unaffiliated voters. In addition, the report says, urban counties and counties with large black populations came out strong against the voter ID constitutional amendment, though that wasn’t enough to defeat it. 

More than double the number of Asians who voted in 2014 did so last year, and Orange County saw the largest increase in Asian-American vote share in the state. In 2014, about twenty-six thousand Hispanic or Latino voters cast ballots; in 2018, nearly sixty-nine thousand did.

Voters age eighteen to twenty-five, while still less likely to vote than older demographics, improved significantly, increasing their turnout from 18 percent to 29 percent. (Senior citizens had a 68 percent turnout, so there’s a ways to go.) Youth turnout was particularly strong in the Triangle—38 percent in Wake, 36 percent in Durham, and 44 percent in Orange. 

Perhaps the most interesting trend, though, is the shrinking of the state’s political parties. Even as Democrats had a big year, they actually comprised a smaller share of the total vote in 2018 (39.1 percent) than they did in 2014 (43.4 percent). Republicans, who had a big year in 2014, shrank, too, though not by nearly as much, from 34.6 percent to 32.6 percent. The big change, of course, is the rise of unaffiliateds, who jumped from 21.7 percent to 27.8 percent. 

Lots of those unaffiliateds were young voters. As Democracy NC points out, “More than double the number of 18-to-25-year-old unaffiliated voters cast ballots in 2018 (99,656) than in 2014 (46,033).”

Zoom out and there’s a pretty clear story: North Carolina’s electorate is getting more diverse, which, on paper, is good for Democrats. Its young voters are starting to turn out, and while they tend to register as unaffiliated, they appear to vote progressive—another point for the Dems. If they can build on those trends and keep those new and newly engaged voters excited next year, they should be able to compete statewide next year. After all, Trump’s not popular here

Yet the Democrats’ centers of power are still clustered around a few urban areas, which will make retaking the General Assembly and prevailing in more of the state’s congressional districts—at least with the current gerrymanders intact—a heavy lift.