The early voting in North Carolina is looking pretty gray

From Jim Geraghty at the Campaign Spot, a piece of news which, at first glance, looks like awful news for Thom Tillis.

Registered Democrats made up 48 percent of all early voters, Republicans 32 percent, and unaffiliated voters comes in at 20 percent.

A total of 1.1 million people took part in early voting.

48 to 32 is a huge gap and that sounds pretty dismal when compared to the last rounds of polling which actually have the race split at less than a point. How could Tillis be doing this badly? As Jay Cost notes, you might not want to read too much into that number for one reason… age.

52 percent are above age 60 (!) and another 29 percent are 45 to 60. In short, that’s a very gray electorate in North Carolina so far. In 2012, Romney carried the 65-and-older vote in North Carolina, 64 percent to 35 percent. The 45-to-64 vote split for Romney 53 percent to 47 percent. Just 5.1 percent of the early vote is 29 or younger.

That’s just confusing no matter how you look at it. It would either take an awfully selective group of seniors (wiping out a third of one side along party lines) or a lot of cross party voting to account for that sort of disparity. The latter actually sounds more probable, and can be explained by a phenomenon we’ve witnessed in New Hampshire and New York, among other places. Long term residents tend to initially register (in states where party registration is done) when they are fairly young. As people age, there has long been a trend of drifting from liberal identification toward more conservative positions. But not everyone bothers to go down and fill out the paperwork to change parties unless they are really concerned about voting in primaries. As a result, you wind up with a group of older voters who don’t necessarily vote along the same lines as their registration might indicate.

Is that a factor in play in North Carolina? We’ll know tonight. But as to who winds up going to the Senate, that will more likely come in a couple of months. Whether it’s Tillis or Hagan, either one of them getting to 50% tonight is far from a sure thing. In fact, I’d bet against it at this point.

This post modified because Michelle Nunn stubbornly refuses to also run in North Carolina.