RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Some political experts think turnout in next month’s primary election will be better than average, but the vast majority of voters are likely to sit it out.

Chris Cooper, an expert on state politics at Western Carolina University, says the record turnout the state saw in the 2020 general election should help to drive higher-than-normal turnout for this year’s primary along with the “laser-like attention on American politics” many people have.

“2020 was a high-water mark for political participation and voter turnout. So, we would expect to see 2022 is going to look certainly higher than 2018,” he said, noting that 2018 did not have any statewide races drawing interest like the U.S. Senate race is this time.

Since 1990, turnout in non-presidential primary elections has averaged about 15.6 percent, according to data from the NC State Board of Elections.

In 2018, turnout was 14 percent, which was a drop from 2014 when it was almost 16 percent.

WNCN photo/Michael Hyland

Cooper said the primary date having been delayed and the recent battle over the state’s electoral districts for Congress and the General Assembly likely have contributed to confusion among some voters.

“We may see more late deciders. So, I think it makes a lot of sense that voters may have been sitting back, particularly when it comes time for Congress because they didn’t know what district they’d be in,” he said.

Outside groups and campaigns are spending millions of dollars on advertising in an effort to move a small number of people, said Meredith College political analyst David McLennan.

“And, that’s the irony of this particular year, is that on a per-voter basis we’re going to see tremendous expenditures, even higher than the general election,” he said.

McLennan said he’s doubtful the aggressive push by some campaigns will do much to drive unusually high turnout this time.

“Even the Senate race is only high profile on one side. Many of the other races got late starts,” he said. “For the people who may end up voting in the midterm elections in November, we may have good turnout there. But, it doesn’t translate back down to the primary.”

Cooper said while the numbers are small, the state is seeing more voters return mail-in ballots than they did at this point in 2018, with about 2,100 returned so far.

“Democrats are turning out by mail in greater numbers than they did in 2018. So are Republicans. But, that margin is even greater among Democrats,” he said. “Mail-in voting appears to be much more of a Democratic way to vote in this early stage than what we used to see in the past.”