Thursday, March 8, 2018

Regional Bases and Dynamics of North Carolina's Political Parties

Over at Long Leaf Politics blog, Andrew Dunn took a look at where North Carolina Democrats were focusing their time for the upcoming mid-term elections: while Democrats hope that the suburbs would be battleground to break the Republican's supermajorities in the state's General Assembly, Andrew writes that "any scenario in which the Dems wield any real power statewide requires them to make inroads into rural North Carolina as well." 

In looking at the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections by the state's regional classification (as determined by the U.S. Office of Management & Budget for urban, suburban, and rural counties), while Democratic presidential candidates are strongest in urban counties (which represent 54 percent of the votes cast), the change from 2012 to 2016 showed a widening gap between the parties' presidential candidates in both suburban and rural counties:

Notably, suburban counties, making up 21 percent of the state's votes, are the most Republican counties in the state, with over 60 percent of their votes going to the GOP.  And likely due to the populist appeal of the Trump campaign in the state in 2016, rural counties went almost 60 percent for the Republican presidential candidate, but these votes were less than a quarter of those cast in North Carolina.

While past performance may indicate 'trends' or patterns, political parties have to fight the next election war. As of the beginning of March, the voter registration pool is where the campaign will be fought over. By classifying each of the state's 6.8 million voters into one of the three regions (urban, suburban, and rural), the voter pool can be broken down into these categories, with the following analysis.

First, the party registration in the state breaks down into 39 percent registered Democrats, 31 percent registered unaffiliated, and 30 percent registered Republicans. Broken down by the regions, however, show the various dynamics within each region:

Not surprising, urban counties had 41 percent registered Democrats while 38 percent of suburban voters were registered Republicans. Due to the legacy of older southern conservatives who registered Democrats, and the significant minority populations in key areas of the eastern part of the state, registered Democrats make up the plurality of registration, but that may speak to the conservative nature of rural areas in the state. 

In looking at the voter blocs within each of the two major parties, along with "unaffiliated" voters, one can also see the dynamic of regionalism within the Democratic and Republican parties in a state that has 54 percent of its voters in urban counties, 22 percent in suburban counties, and 24 percent in rural counties:

Within the Democratic Party, 58 percent of its registered voters reside in urban counties, with only 17 percent of registered Democrats residing in suburban counties and a quarter of its registered voters in rural counties. Conversely, the Republican Party has less than 50 percent of its voters in urban counties, with 27 percent in suburban counties and a quarter in rural counties. Interestingly, "unaffiliated" voters are more like the Democratic Party in that 54 percent of its voters are in urban counties, but a significant number more are in suburban counties. 

In looking at the composition of voters within each region, one can see distinct patterns again in the urban/suburban/rural classification. State-wide, 69 percent of registered voters consider themselves white, with 22 percent as black or African-American, and 9 percent all other races. Broken down by regions, however, shows distinct differences again by region in comparison to the state-wide numbers:

Whites make up less than two-thirds of urban county voters, while whites constitute 80 percent of suburban counties and 72 percent in rural counties. 

Finally, in taking each political registration (Democratic, Republican, unaffiliated, and Libertarian), one can see the racial diversity (or lack thereof) within each party affiliation category:

Not surprising, registered Democrats are a majority-minority party, with 55 percent of registered voters for the party as persons of color. Conversely, registered Republicans are overwhelmingly white (94 percent), while three-quarters of unaffiliated voters classify themselves as white. 

Overall, Democrats are the "urban party" within North Carolina, but their need to rebuild votes in suburban and rural counties are critical to any future success come the fall's mid-term elections. While some early national analysis say that suburban voters are a critical group for Democrats to capitalize upon, others would contend that rural areas continue to need attention to the issues and concerns that face this region.  

As Democrats seek to build on what appears to be momentum towards the mid-term elections, a strategy of developing where their battle plans will focus on, along with which members of their "political army" will be called upon to fight those battles, is critical to any success come November. And while both political parties are now contesting each legislative seat (in what many observers believe is a first for the state in modern political history), understanding the state's, and legislative districts', nature and dynamics will be fundamental to any gains either party attempts to make, or defend any of their current seats. A future post will look at the regional, partisan, and racial dynamics in each of the state's legislative districts as we head into the May primaries.