Still, the U.S. Elections Project said only 36 percent of voters turned out nationwide, compared to approximately 41 percent in the 2010 general election — the lowest voter turnout since 1942.
A growing trend of exorbitant campaign budgets and donations is changing the political climate, Schofield said.
“It’s going to be a challenge more and more to find high quality candidates in this new world, in which one has to have so much money lined up in order to be a viable candidate,” he said.
Schofield said the “monster voting laws” rolled out in 2013, including the elimination of same-day registration and shortened early voting periods, might have been a factor.
Andrew Brennen, political director for the UNC Young Democrats, said the organization was pleased with its efforts to increase voter participation and attendance, despite new voter restrictions.
He said the group will evaluate its strategies heading into the 2016 election season.
Ferrel Guillory, a UNC journalism professor and director of the Program on Public Life, said the U.S. Senate campaigns encountered difficulty when recruiting young voters, who accounted for about 6 percent of the total voter turnout.
“I’m not saying that (Hagan and Tillis are not) important characters, but they’re not the kind of people that – prior to the campaign – that Jon Stewart or Colbert would make jokes about,” he said. “I think both campaigns faced the issue of motivating voters to vote for candidates that younger voters just don’t have a great feel for.”
Susan MacManus, government and international affairs professor at the University of South Florida, said presidential campaigns — where their involvement and efforts can be focused toward a single, notable candidate — are more alluring to young voters.
“Young people are very drawn to trailblazing candidates, so of course, President Obama breaking one of the nation’s biggest barriers drew a lot of attention and involvement among younger voters,” she said. “But sometimes, the state and local candidates aren’t as well known.”
She said votes nationwide showed young people are supporting a more diverse group of candidates.
“It’s a very splintered electorate now,” she said.
Rob Flaherty, youth media coordinator and video producer for the Democratic National Committee, said the Democrats entered 2014 with knowledge of the challenges.
“Obviously, this was a tough match for Democrats this year,” he said. “We knew what was going on.”
But Flaherty said he has high expectations for the Democratic Party’s ability to perform in 2016.
Jaymes Powell Jr., spokesman for the N.C. Democratic Party’s African-American Caucus, said the Democratic judicial wins in North Carolina were key.
“We won most of our judicial races that we supported,” Powell said. “People who actually have something to do with North Carolina on a day-to-day basis.”