Thursday, September 29, 2022

NC Mail Vote Update For September 29, 2022

By Christopher Cooper

Election day in North Carolina is a bit of a misnomer. It's really more of an election deadline (and, like most deadlines, there are a few exceptions).  For example, in 2020 the plurality of NC votes were not cast on election day, but rather through in person early voting (what we call Absentee One-Stop). The next most votes were cast by mail. And the smallest number were cast on election day.

So, what patterns are we seeing this thus far in North Carolina? As Michael Bitzer explained last week, we plan to give a relatively brief rundown on the mail and early vote in NC mid week through the end of early voting period. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

North Carolina Has Votes (by mail, at least)

By Michael Bitzer

North Carolina can claim another first, and that is the first state in the nation with ballots sent out and being returned and accepted for votes for this November 8th's general election. 

As my colleagues Chris Cooper and Gerry Cohen (among others) are prone to do, we will cover the returns of absentee by mail (and beginning on Thursday, October 20th, the submissions of absentee onestop, or early in-person ballots) and looking at the trends and patterns emerging so far in the run-up to November 8. 

Chris and I plan to post a weekly update here at the blog, usually on Wednesdays, but we'll also have analysis on our respective Twitter feeds, if you need your "data hit" on a daily basis rather than just weekly.

Now, a serious statement of caution: do not read into these numbers anything other than "these are who are showing up" to cast ballots. Trying to predict which candidate may/may not be ahead (the horse-race aspect to our elections) may be as futile as predicting the success of the Hail Mary App State-Troy game finale. 

As political scientists who study North Carolina politics and especially voter and elections data, we can tell you the 'fool's errand' of thinking mail-in votes will give us any indication of the final tally: in 2020, the mail-in votes went 70 percent for Joe Biden, who lost the state ultimately by 1.3 percent. 

Monday, September 19, 2022

NC Unaffiliated Voters Are #1, but Where Are The Unaffiliated Candidates?

By Christopher Cooper

As most readers of this blog know, Unaffiliated registered voters now outnumber registered Democrats or Republicans in North Carolina. This fact has been highlighted by print, television, and radio journalists across the state. We've written about it a few times ourselves.  

But what about the candidates? Have we seen an uptick in Unaffiliated candidates as the number of Unaffiliated voters have risen? Are Unaffiliated candidates any more successful in a world where "none of the above" dominates in terms of partisan identification? Inspired by questions from Ridge Public Radio regional reporter Lilly Knoepp, I decided to dig into the data and find out.

Monday, September 12, 2022

The 2022 Election: An Overview of NC's Voter Pool and the U.S. Senate Contest

By Michael Bitzer

With North Carolina having sent out its absentee by mail ballots (and the first ballots in the nation submitted the next day), we start the final leg of this mid-term election, culminating on November 8, 2022 and the county, and then state, certification of the official results for this mid-term election.

Along with my other colleagues, we will have a series of analyses regarding the major contests coming up for the Old North State to decide this fall: from the US Senate and US House contests, to the state legislative and supreme court races. In each, we hope to give some analysis of where things stand in terms of the voter pool, what we have seen in the past in various contests in terms of electoral turnout dynamics, and how this mid-term election may be shaping up.

In this piece, I'll take a look at the overall potential electorate--the registered voter pool as of September 6, 2022--and how it might shape the state-wide dynamics, especially the U.S. Senate contest that has stabilized into one of the most competitive contests, but up to this point seemingly a second-tier battle by the national media.

NC Enters 2022's Election with 7.3 Million Potential Voters

Friday, September 9, 2022

Are MAGA Republicans Distinct?

By Christopher Cooper

In a recent piece that was published in the Monkey Cage/Washington Post, friends of ONSP Scott Huffmon (Winthrop University), Gibbs Knotts (College of Charleston), Seth McKee (Oklahoma State University), and I used data from a Winthrop University poll of southerners to determine whether MAGA voters are distinct from other Republicans and what characteristics self-identified MAGA Republicans share.

Please read more here


Chris Cooper is the Madison Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs at Western Carolina University. He tweets at @chriscooperwcu

Wednesday, August 10, 2022


by Christopher Cooper

The electoral winds are blowing behind the Republican Party in 2022. Thanks to high inflation, an economy that isn’t serving all sectors of society, and the inevitable losses faced by the party of the president in a midterm, this will almost certainly be a good year for Republicans running for the N.C. General Assembly. All else being equal, districts with even the slightest red hue are expected to land safely into Republican hands in 2022. But, what about the districts where all else isn’t necessarily equal? 

I took at look at one such district, NC-119, in an issue of the NC Tribune. Please read more here:  


Chris Cooper is the Madison Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs at Western Carolina University. He tweets at @chriscooperwcu

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Supreme Court is Wildly Out of Touch with North Carolinians

By Whitney Ross Manzo

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States began issuing its most controversial decisions of the 2021-2022 term. They do this every year around the end of June into early July, which is traditionally their 'end of the term' before going into their “vacation” until the 2022-2023 term starts on the first Monday in October. (During this break, justices do some work of reviewing petitions and preparing for the next term. However, they are not nearly as active as during the term, such as hearing oral arguments and releasing opinions, so that they can disappear to Austria, if they like.)

For people who study and teach on the Court, like Michael Bitzer and I do, words cannot adequately express how unprecedented and radical last week’s decisions were. We are used to teaching students about how the Court relies on stare decisis (literally “to stand by things decided”) in order to promote stability and consistency in law. We explain how justices must use sound legal reasoning in order for their decisions to be respected and upheld by the other branches of government, and ultimately by the public at large.

Last week’s decisions took a giant wrecking ball to basically every lecture I have on the Supreme Court, because they illuminate how none of these things are actually true. Justices don't rely on stare decisis unless it suits them. Justices don't have to use sound legal reasoning because, honestly, who’s going to stop them? They are the final say on the Constitution, after all.

But should they be?

Monday, June 27, 2022

What Exactly is a Post-Roe America and North Carolina?

By Susan L. Roberts

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health is indeed a landmark victory for the pro-life movement. The leaked draft unveiled by Politico on May 2 all but guaranteed a body blow to Roe.  The formal opinion differed from the leaked draft opinion only minimally with the addition of the syllabus and Alito’s comments on the concurring and dissenting opinions. What is being parsed are the concurring and dissenting opinions, especially that of Justice Clarence Thomas. It goes without saying the implications and impact of the ruling overturning Roe are as varied as they are dramatic, and no single analysis can capture the fluid and fierce nature of situation of a post-Roe America. 

Taking a step back from the close reading of the decision itself, let’s briefly look back at how we got here, what the national impact may be going forward, and what the impact may be for North Carolina.   As I wrote in May 2021, this “perfect storm” for the anti-abortion cause has been the result of a both a slow and strategically incremental approach as well a more radical course of action dedicated to the single cause of overturning Roe

Monday, June 20, 2022

Who Showed Up in May's Primary Election?

By Michael Bitzer

With the data finalized from the 100 counties and available via the NC State Board of Elections, we can now parse through who showed up to vote based on a number of factors. As reported in the Raleigh News and Observer recently, May's primary electorate had only two out of ten NC registered voters participate. But with the counties reporting their voter history data to the NC State Board of Elections and using the May 21 voter registration data file, we can see who showed up for May's primary. This blog post will look a variety of factors, specifically highlighting more detailed information based voter party registration, generational dynamics, and the location and type of precincts voters casting May primary ballots came from. 

Slightly over 1.4 million registered NC voters cast a May 2022 ballot, amounting to almost 20 percent registered voter turnout. That's the highest turnout in twenty years, as my colleague Chris Cooper noted in a previous blog post and chart:

Thursday, June 16, 2022

ONSP on the Monkey Cage Blog

Drs. Christopher Cooper and Michael Bitzer look at the question of whether Democrats are being "strategic crossover voters" in Republican primaries and find that, at least in the Madison Cawthorn Republican primary for the NC 11th Congressional District, enough registered Democrats-turned-Unaffiliateds participated in the GOP primary to perhaps doom the first-term controversial congressman.

Their analysis is at:

Thursday, June 9, 2022

(Some) Primaries Aren't Over Yet: What Do We Know About Runoffs and Second Primaries in North Carolina?

by Christopher Cooper and Michael Bitzer

Like a dinner guest that just won't leave, we're not done with the 2022 primaries yet. As the inimitable Gerry Cohen shows in the map below, 15 counties have either second primaries (partisan elections where the top vote-getter didn't get above 30% of the vote), runoffs* (nonpartisan elections where the top vote-getter didn't get above a threshold amount of vote), or local elections to look forward to on July 26. Now that the list of July election is set, we thought it would be a good time to review what we know about runoffs and second primaries in North Carolina. 

Source: Gerry Cohen's indispensable twitter feed:

A Brief History of Second Primary Rules in North Carolina

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Post-Primary 2022 Reflections

With some sleep (and probably more caffeine than sleep), here are some reflections and thoughts following the 2022 mid-term primary. Each of us will provide our own thoughts, and if we repeat each other, well, that may mean it is something others should be paying attention to. 

As a note: when the final voter data comes out after canvassing, we'll have a better set of empirical analyses to run, but here's what each of us are thinking following May 17's contest and preparations for the campaigns to November's general election. 

By Susan Roberts:

As we know, partisanship is perhaps the single most important predictor in voting. That’s one reason primary elections are intriguing. These races don’t provide the voter with a clear partisan cue, and voters must rely on other factors to make their choices. Perhaps one of the best and most recent reflections on these was a piece by Elaine Karmack of the Brookings Institution on lessons from the March 2022 Texas primaries. Karmack argues primaries are “the most consequential elections in American politics,” adding they have long been regarded as “the ugly stepchild of American politics; ignored by journalists and snubbed by political scientists.” We aren’t going to ignore them here in the Old North State.

Monday, May 16, 2022

With NC's early voting done, It's Election Time/Day for NC's Primary

By Michael Bitzer and Chris Cooper

With this past weekend's close of early, in-person voting for North Carolina's May 17 primary, we thought we'd revisit some of our thinking from last week and add in a few more data points (thanks to the great work by the N.C. State Board of Elections and the various counties with their public files) and observations (and questions) about what we might see come Tuesday's election.

Early Voting Sets a Mid-Term Primary Record

First, an overview of where things ended up with North Carolinians casting early votes, and boy did they ever. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Tentative Lessons from Early Voting in NC One Week From Election Day

By Chris Cooper and Michael Bitzer

While election day isn't until a week from today, it's been more than 40 days since the first ballot was accepted in North Carolina and over a week since the first person walked into an early voting site and cast an in-person ballot. So, it seems like a good time to take an early, preliminary, provisional, tentative assessment of what we can glean from the data thus far. So, with all of the caveats we can muster, here are some observations that we think we know about the 2022 electorate thus far.* 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

What Can We Expect for NC's May Primary Election?

By Michael Bitzer

With the start of early, in-person voting beginning on Thursday, April 28 for the May 17th North Carolina primary election, we can look back at the past five elections to perhaps see what kind of trends are present when it comes to how many votes may be cast, and what method we should expect when voters cast their ballots. 

So How Many Will Show Up for May 17?

First, what might we expect when it comes to the number of voters likely participating in this year's primary elections?

For both parties, there are some distinct trends when it comes to primaries held in presidential versus mid-term years. In presidential years, generally North Carolina sees about one million registered voters participate in each primary (for about two million total), depending on the competitiveness of the top-of-the-ballot contest. 

Thursday, March 24, 2022

It Finally Happened: NC's Unaffiliated Voters Take Command

by Michael Bitzer and Christopher Cooper

Last week, the number of registered Unaffiliated voters passed the number of Democratic voters to make Unaffiliated the largest group of registered voters in NC politics. This is a topic that we've written about recently as have some of the state's best journalists. Given the importance of last week's partisan eclipse, we thought it would be a good time to take an overview of what the data tell us about Unaffiliated voters in North Carolina.


As you can see from the graph below, the rise of Unaffiliated voters has been a long build that has only recently come to fruition. Unaffiliated voters hovered around 5 percent of the North Carolina electorate from 1977 (when the Unaffiliated category was first established) until 1988 when the Republicans first opened their primaries up to Unaffiliated voters. Prior to 1988, registrants were welcome to register as Unaffiliated, but doing so would lock them out of voting in any primary. 

Monday, March 14, 2022

Understanding District Partisan Lean in 2022: A Case for Chilling Out

 by Christopher Cooper

At long last, we know the details of North Carolina's State House, State Senate, and Congressional districts. Soon after they were enacted, think tanks, academics and journalists began to analyze how these districts leaned according to various partisan metrics. Sometimes these competing metrics can get a little confusing, so I'll review a few of them below (note: not an exhaustive list), describing how they are calculated. The bottom line, however, is that which metric you choose doesn't matter much in how you understand the partisan lean of North Carolina's districts--a point that I'll review in greater detail below. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Please Ignore Internal Polls

 by Christopher Cooper

As the primary season kicks into full gear, we can expect a barrage of internal polls purporting to show one candidate with a “commanding lead” in the upcoming primary. One such poll from Madison Cawthorn made the rounds yesterday. The press release reporting the results noted that Cawthorn “dominates” the NC-11 primary field and “holds an 80% GOP approval rating”(1).


My goal here is simple: to convince you to ignore internal polls. I’ll use Cawthorn’s recent internal poll as an example, but this is not a phenomenon limited to Madison Cawthorn or to the Republican Party. I’ve seen untrustworthy internal polls from Democrats, Republicans, and Unaffiliated candidates. The rare Green or Libertarian candidate who can afford internal polling is subject to the same critiques.


Primary election internal polling is unreliable and uninformative because of three factors: selection, lack of disclosure, and uncertainty.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Follow the Money: How Campaign Finance Disclosure Can Help Us Be Better Citizens

By Christopher Cooper

Four times a year, people running for office file paperwork detailing how much campaign money they took in, where it came from, and how they spent it. You don’t need to file a FOIA request and you don’t need any special access or a secret decoder ring to get the information--simply the ability to navigate a web browser here and here and commence to sleuthing. I wish we had better disclosure laws and the data aren’t perfect, but what is available can help you better understand who's running for office, who they depend on, and what their spending says about them.


Thursday, January 6, 2022

Thoughts on January 6th

By Michael Bitzer

Note: I write only for myself, and not for my affiliated institution nor for my colleagues who also contribute and are associated with this blog. 

Much has been written about the tragic day of January 6, 2021, a day that should live in comparable historical view with September 11, 2001 and December 7, 1941. 

As someone who studies both American politics and history, the self-coup and insurrection of a year ago came as a sickening shock, but unfortunately, not a surprise.

Not a surprise because I suspected violence would occur. Throughout 2020, I often hoped and thought it wouldn't, but was realistic to know that the reality could happen. With all of the fuel being poured onto a deeply divided and polarized electorate and nation over 2020, violence likely would come in the form of what this nation had seen before, namely in the form of attempted, or God-forbid actual, political assassination. 

But a different political assassination occurred that day. An attempted political assassination of our form of governance. Of our democratic republic. Of our 'rule of law.' Of the unwritten and undergirding rules and norms, namely 'we lost this election, but we live to fight another one in the future.' Of resolving political conflict, not through the bullet, but through the ballot. 

Watching January 6, 2021 unfold, I wasn't just a political scientist who studies the United States of America, but as a citizen. 

I recall the horror, the recoiling, the utter shock and then anger and outrage of watching the bastion of our self-governance and the citadel of our constitutional republic defiled.

Of our process of peaceful transition of power dishonored. 

Of our will, as a people, desecrated.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Year in Review and Looking Forward for North Carolina's 7.2 Million Voters

By Michael Bitzer

With the dawn of a new year, the race to the November general election is (with a primary blip) well underway. And as North Carolina prepares for yet another competitive mid-term election environment, a review of where the state's voter pool stands, and the changes last year brought about, is in order. This post takes a look at where North Carolina's voter pool stands at the beginning of mid-term election year and who registered and switched parties in 2021.

2022 Begins with 7.2 Million NC Voters

Using the NC State Board of Elections data set for the December 25, 2021 (a data set wasn't available on Saturday, Jan. 1), the 7.2 million registered voters continue some key trends that have been developing over time, and one important trend will likely come to fruition in the early part of the new year.

For comparison, I used the January 9, 2021 voter registration data, which saw registered Democrats at 35.5 percent of the total pool, with registered unaffiliated voters at 33.2 percent and registered Republicans at 30.6 percent. 

As of December 25, registered Democrats slipped to 34.7 percent, unaffiliateds rose to 34.3 percent, and Republicans were marginally down to 30.3 percent.