2018 Election Analysis: NC Senate

Last update: 11/13/18

Tuesday was also a great night for Democrats in the NC Senate, where they have picked up the 6 seats needed to break the GOP supermajority. Democrats would need to add 4 additional seats (out of 50) to break the majority in the NC Senate in 2020.

NC Senate map_labeled.png

As in the NC House, the seats Democrats flipped in the NC Senate, as well as the districts in which they came close, were very much in line with our pre-election analysis (which relied on a combination of past election results that included both state-level races and Hillary Clinton’s performance in 2016). Like the NC House races, the Democratic margin in NC Senate races in 2018 is well predicted by a combination of Clinton’s and Cooper’s performance in 2016.

A relatively simple predictive model fits the 2018 results well: weighting Cooper’s margin about three times as much as Clinton’s, adding 3.3 points for the Democratic candidate due to the statewide blue wave in 2018, and factoring in a 2.6-point incumbency effect. Overall, Democratic legislative candidates outperformed Clinton in their districts by about 6 points, and the predictive model matches that statewide Democratic swing perfectly.

Below is a closer look at the 2018 election results by district for the NC Senate. In the tables below, we show for each district (1) a Predicted margin based on the model described above and (2) the Actual margin in the 2018 election.


NC Senate table 1.png

When Republicans were forced to re-draw their racially gerrymandered legislative maps prior to the 2018 elections, NC-S15 went from being a competitive district represented by a Republican senator to a strong Democratic district. Senator Jay Chaudhuri was re-drawn into this district and won by 50 points. Democrats also easily won the open seat in Chaudhuri’s former district, NC-S16.


NC Senate table 2.png
Natasha and Sam_NC Senate.jpg

Fueled by strong campaigns and the Democratic surge in Mecklenburg and Wake counties, Democrats Natasha Marcus and Sam Searcy significantly outperformed expectations and won NC-S41 and NC-S17 relatively easily.



In this exciting trio of races in the Fayetteville, Greensboro, and Wilmington areas, Democratic candidates finished the election night vote count with leads of less than 1 percent! If these leads hold in the official results, Democrats will have broken the GOP supermajority in the NC Senate by the slimmest of margins, exactly in line with the predictive model.


NC Senate table 4.png
mack paul 1.jpg

In NC-S18, Democratic candidate Mack Paul came up just short in his bid to unseat NC Senator John Alexander, likely leaving the northern edge of Wake County as the only part of Wake or Mecklenburg counties with Republican representation in either the NC House or NC Senate.


The loss in NC-S39 is disappointing; the district is contained entirely in NC House districts 103, 104, and 105, all of which Democrats won this election cycle.

If the current maps remain in place, Democrats would likely need to flip at least three of these four districts to break the majority in the NC Senate in 2020. Democratic candidates outperformed expectations in several of these districts but not by enough to overcome the substantial structural advantages built in for Republicans by their extremely partisan gerrymandered maps.