Runoff rundown

Published May 16, 2024

By Chris Cooper

There was a second primary in North Carolina on May 14 for the Republican Auditor, Lieutenant Governor and NC-13 races (yes, there were a couple of runoffs for important local races too, but I'm just discussing the congressional and statewide here). So, what happened?


Voter turnout in the second primary was somewhere between terrible and awful. Statewide, fewer than 3 percent of all eligible voters cast a vote. 

If you compare the number of people who cast a vote in the first primary for that office to the number who cast a vote in the second primary, things don't look much better. Turnout for the Republican Auditor second primary was ~14.5% of the first primary, Republican Lieutenant Governor was about 14% of original turnout and Republican 13th Congressional District was about 25.7% of original turnout.

This turnout doesn't only seem low, it's considerably lower than what we've seen in this past. Average turnout for Council of State 2nd primaries in North Carolina from 2010-2020 was about 26 percent of the first primary turnout; congressional second primaries in the same time period averaged around 38 percent of the original turnout. 

The turnout was so low that:

1) The NC State Board of Elections (wisely) decided to take the precinct data files off of the web site because...wait for might be able to identify an individual's vote choice by combining the precinct results and the voter history file. Here's the quote from the NCSBE press release.



2) According to a tweet (yes, I still call them tweets) from WSOC's Joe Bruno, Stanly County's data  aren't available at all because their turnout was so low that they were worried about privacy.

There's low turnout. Then there's turnout so low that you can't find county-level election results. 

Reviewing the Results


The NC-13 second primary featured Kelly Daughtry v. Brad Knott. Daughtry won the first primary by ~9 percentage points, and she was less than 3 percentage points away from clearing the threshold to avoid the second primary. Things looked good for Daughtry until Donald J. Trump endorsed her opponent Brad Knott on April 5. Daughtry suspended her campaign on May 2. The problem was, she was still on the ballot and thousands of votes had been cast when she withdrew (including her own).  Would voters know?

In a word: yes.

Brad Knott won the 2nd primary by 81 percentage points, in what is (maybe?) the biggest 1st to 2nd primary shift in NC political history (please let me know if you know an example that's a bigger drop-off).


The Republican NC auditor second primary featured Jack Clark and Dave Boliek. Clark won the first primary by ~1.1 percentage points, and this one didn't have the punctuation of a Trump endorsement, so it was difficult to predict what would happen.

Boliek won the 2nd primary by ~6.5 percentage points. The shift was pretty remarkable: Boleik beat Clark in 21 counties in the first primary and won 58 counties in the second primary. By examining county-level vote shares (the dots in the graph below), we can see that support for Boliek went up across the board, but patterns were fairly consistent across the two primaries. The only county that flipped from Boliek to Clark was Alexander.

Lieutenant Governor
The Republican Lieutenant Governor second primary was a little more predictable. Hal Weatherman beat Jim O'Neill by 3.75 percentage points in the first primary and 48.82 percentage points in the second.
O'Neill had more votes than Weatherman in 20 counties in the first primary, but won in just one county in the second primary. Similar to support for Boliek in the Auditor's race race, the support for Weatherman correlates fairly well across the two primaries (in other words, he tended to do well in the same places in both primaries).


Too long; didn't read? I've got two takeaways from Tuesday night's second primary in NC:
1 Turnout was low, even by second primary standards.
2. Don't sleep on second primaries. From 2010-2020, the second place finisher in the first primary flipped the script and won the second primary 38 percent of the time. This year, the winner flipped in 2/3 of the contests. 
Onward to the General.

Christopher Cooper is Madison Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs at Western Carolina University where he directs the  Haire Institute for Public Policy. His book, Anatomy of a Purple State, is available for pre-order from UNC Press. Use code 01SOCIAL30 at checkout to save 30% off of the already bargain price of $22.00.