This year marked the lowest number of votes a winning Senate candidate has had in North Carolina since Elizabeth Dole was first elected in 2002. The number of votes cast in this election was up by nearly 600,000 votes, but even though nearly 600,000 more people voted in the election, Tillis still received a lower number of votes than winning candidates have in previous elections.
This relative decline in participation could indicate Tillis’ unpopularity statewide, stemming from his work in the N.C. General Assembly or voter fatigue from either distrust in the political system or some other factor. Tillis still won the election, proving that despite his own apparent unpopularity, Hagan and the Democratic Party were much more unpopular.
The most worrying statistic for Democrats is the decline in the votes and percentage that Hagan received. Hagan received a high percentage of votes considering she lost, but she received nearly 900,000 fewer votes than in the 2008 election when she first assumed office. Though that was a presidential year, this should still worry Democrats because the state's electorate has increased in size since then.
Accounting for the increased size of the electorate and turnout, if Hagan had performed just as well in this election as in her first in 2008, then she would have received more than 138,000 additional votes, and she would have won the election.
The discrepancy likely comes from a decline in the popularity of Hagan, President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party in general. Hagan received around 800,000 fewer votes than President Obama did in the state in 2012; if Hagan had received even two-thirds of the number of votes Obama received in the North Carolina in 2012, she would have won re-election easily.
The results in North Carolina comport with national trends. Nationally, turnout increases in presidential elections compared to midterm elections and Republicans often fare better in midterms. This election in North Carolina appears to be unique, however, because each Senate candidate was relatively unpopular.