- Political polarization by educational attainment is speeding up
- New 2022 election analysis shows a clear shift among women with less than a college degree
- This group will likely be pivotal in North Carolina’s 2024 elections
Educational polarization among the voting electorate in North Carolina became supercharged during the presidency of Donald Trump. Better-educated voters residing in urban and suburban areas shifted heavily toward Democratic candidates (see: The Wake Republican Endangered Species Act). Likewise, voters with less than a college education residing in rural areas leaned increasingly towards Republican candidates. Was this a Trump-era aberration, or a continuing trend? Recent election results and polling from Carolina Forward indicate that it may be the latter.
The 2022 election outcome in several key presidential battleground states did not follow much-hyped “red wave” predictions. Post-election analysis conducted by renowned research firm Catalist in these states shows that Democratic candidates over-performed their 2020 results with women, especially white non-college women (+4%). Why was North Carolina immune to this bump in non-college female voters? Likely because the abortion issue was not front and center in the same way it was states that had abortion ballot initiatives and GOP candidates running for statewide office on abortion bans.
Exclusive polling conducted just last month by Carolina Forward shows that the passage of Senate Bill 20 has now officially made abortion a top tier issue for non-college female voters. When asked the following general questions about abortion and Senate Bill 20, non-college female voters responded:
- How important are candidate positions on abortion when deciding who to vote for: Very important = 61%
- Abortion should be: Legal in all cases/Legal in most case = 65%
- When, if ever, do you think access to abortion should be limited: No restrictions/< 20 weeks = 61%
- Lowering the current abortion week guideline from 20 weeks to 12 weeks: Strongly oppose = 51%
- Would you vote for a state legislative candidate that supported SB 20: Much more likely to oppose = 53%
In fact, the response that “abortion should be legal in all cases” actually scored higher with women who had not gone to college than with women who had. When these very same non-college women voters were asked their opinion on several prominent political figures, Donald Trump received higher marks (Very/Somewhat favorable = 41%) than any another name polled. Trump himself, interestingly, has yet to put down a clear marker on abortion restrictions in his bid to reclaim the White House, while Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has gone out of his way to avoid talking about the six-week ban he championed and signed into law.
Further analysis conducted after the April 2023 Wisconsin Supreme Court race indicates that the abortion issue was a significant driver of Democratic turnout in rural areas, even more than urban counties. The surge in turnout for the victorious Democratic judicial candidate was very likely fueled by non-college female voters residing in exurban and rural counties.
With the passage of SB 20, abortion access is now squarely on the ballot for NC voters in 2024. GOP legislators are already openly discussing their plans to completely ban abortion come 2025, should voters allow them an opportunity. And the stakes for reproductive freedom go far beyond abortion alone. The morning-after pill, in-vitro fertilization, access to birth control for non-married couples, marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples and far more are all under assault from ultra-conservative social activists in many red states, and even in purple North Carolina.
Non-college female voters will be a key constituency in determining the future of these issues in our state. Will they go along with giving up their rights to personal bodily autonomy in the name of fundamentalist moral righteousness? We will all get to find out soon enough.