Monday, November 22, 2021

The Rise of North Carolina's Unaffiliated Voter: Who Are They?

By Michael Bitzer, Chris Cooper, Whitney Ross Manzo, and Susan Roberts

Recently, the four of us presented a co-authored paper entitled "The Rise of the Unaffiliated Registered Voter in North Carolina" at the "State of the Parties: 2020 and Beyond" conference hosted (virtually) by the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron. This post summarizes our key findings regarding the fastest growing group of registered voters in the state, and the group that will likely become the state's largest registered voter block sometime in 2022.

The Beginnings of the Unaffiliated NC Voter Rise

We trace the rise of the unaffiliated voter in NC back to 1977, when the NC General Assembly passed House Bill 48, which converted the then-registered "independent" or "no party" designees on the state's voter rolls to "unaffiliated" party status. 

Yet it would be 1986 before NC began to see the significant rise in unaffiliated voters. That same year was when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision giving political parties in the states the right (under the First and Fourteenth amendments) to decide whether their primary elections would be open to other voters than just those registered with the party. This "closed" primary system, where only registered voters of the party could participate in the selection of the party's nominees, was the previous system that North Carolina used.

However, one year later, the NC Republican Party opened up their primaries to Unaffiliated registered voters (still barring registered Democrats however) following passage of another NC law that granted the state's political parties the right to vote in the primary election. 

It would be another eight years, however, before the NC Democratic Party would open up its primaries to Unaffiliated voters (yet again, barring registered Republicans from participating). 

As shown in this graph, the period 1977 to 1990 saw registered Unaffiliated voters at about five percent of the state's total voter pool, but after 1990, the percentage of registered voters begins to escalate quickly, rising to 15 percent of the pool by the turn of the 21st Century. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

How Far Can the Kudzu of Trumpism Cover North Carolina?

By Michael Bitzer

For those not from the South, kudzu is a vine that spreads itself far and wide, seemingly minute-by-minute, thanks to the region's heat and humidity. And yet it contains 'mythical' dynamics of a plant destined to eat the entire region

Most of the 'lore' of the noxious vine is just that--a myth--even though most Southerners and those visiting the region have seen the telephone poles, barns, and trees consumed by the invasive green monster. 

Yet beyond the actual plant, kudzu can take on metaphorical dimensions, within the right conditions, for an invasive and aggressive being that can devour whatever is in its path at lightening speed. It's not just the plant that one can see overtaking farmland, but what I'm seeing is a political version that has strong roots in the Old North State and is advancing quickly.

And like the plant, Trumpism's spread will likely not be contained until it covers all aspects of the Republican Party.

In news that has startled North Carolina politics, current U.S. Representative Madison Cawthorn announced that he was moving from his current home of the 11th (soon to become the 14th) congressional district to what will now be the new 13th congressional district. 

Friday, October 22, 2021

North Carolina is a Long State. And That Matters for Its Politics

 by Christopher Cooper

I was scrolling Twitter this morning and saw at tweet by Henry Gargan (I don’t know him, but from his Twitter account, he seems like a nice and smart fellow. Good bird photographer, too), noting “always a little startled thinking about how much more North Carolina there is West of Asheville.”*


Gargan is, of course, correct. There is indeed a lot of North Carolina past Asheville- hours of it, in fact. There’s a mid-sized university, part of a national park, a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, 8 counties, a separate nation, a ton of bears, some good flatpickers, terrific whitewater, three NC House districts, two NC Senate districts, and the better part of a congressional district.


People chimed in, as you would expect, with their experiences with far Western North Carolina geography—some commented about how many other state capitals are closer to them than Raleigh, some talked about the length of time from Murphy to Asheville, and one said it’s the same distance from Manteo to Robbinsville as from Robbinsville to Dallas (fact check: not true. But I get the point. It’s a long state).


Perhaps unintentionally, Gardan’s tweet revealed a lot about the importance of political geography for political representation. Distance from the state capital influences  how people think about politics and how they are represented.


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Revisiting Whether It's Politics or Economics That Impacts a County's Vaccination Percentage?

By Michael Bitzer

Back in the middle of summer, I posted a simple analysis that looked at the 100 North Carolina counties and their full (second shot) vaccination percentages compared to whether a county voted for Trump, or whether other factors might influence the county vaccination percentage.

In that previous analysis, Trump's county vote percentage was statistically significant, meaning we can say with some confidence that it does have an impact and helps explain a county's vaccination percentage. But it appeared to be in conjunction with a county's per capita income, along with a few other 'variables' that ultimately helped to explain 62 percent of a county's full vaccination percentage. 

Recently, the New York Times reported an analysis that showed that in counties that voted overwhelmingly for Trump (70 percent or greater) "the virus has killed about 47 out of every 100,000 people since the end of June," compared to 10 out of 100,000 in those counties that voted the reverse (less than 32 percent for Trump).

I decided to update the data for the number of full vaccinations in each N.C. county, and then created the percentage of those age 15 years and older for a county's full vaccination percentage to replicate the July analysis. 

First, a scatterplot of the county full vaccination percentage against Trump's county vote:

Friday, September 24, 2021

Redistricting and American Democracy Conference

Duke University will be hosting a conference September 28 & 29 on "Redistricting and American Democracy." The conference will bring together scholars, practitioners, and advocates virtually to take stock of the current legal and political landscape, preview the upcoming redistricting process in North Carolina and elsewhere, and discuss the path forward for redistricting reforms. 

Two of ONSP contributions, Drs. Chris Cooper and Michael Bitzer, will be participating in the conference. Registration for the conference can be made here, with a general overview of the two-day program here and the schedule here.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Making North Carolina Elections More Transparent and Accessible

By Rebecca Kreitzer and Whitney Ross Manzo*

This post draws attention to two important issues with voting in North Carolina: first, that voting across the state is inconsistent, and second, that voters are concerned about the security of the process. Making voting more consistent and increasing transparency and education about the voting process will improve both voter equity and confidence in our electoral system.

how is voting across north carolina inconsistent?

North Carolina counties spend vastly different amounts on administering elections. Figure 1 shows the total amount spent by each county in North Carolina in the 2018 election cycle (from 7/1/2017 to 6/30/2019). More heavily populated counties like Mecklenburg and Wake spent around $10 million each, while counties with fewer people, like Tyrrell and Washington, spent closer to $200,000. Person County, which is north of Durham and has a population of over 39,000 people, reported spending $0 conducting elections during this cycle.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

About Madison Cawthorn's Road Trip to Johnston County

by Christopher Cooper

If all goes according to plan, this evening Republican member of Congress Madison Cawthorn will speak at a Johnston County School Board Meeting and ask the board to reverse their decision to require face masks in schools. According to a flier advertising the event, Cawthorn will park at either the fast food parking lot "in front of the outlets" or Becky's Log Cabin Motel in Smithfield and join a few hundred protestors to fight for “PARENT’S CHOICE on masks, vaccines, and CRT in schools.” Robby Starbuck, a congressional candidate from Tennessee who once produced the official video for the Spongebob Movie will also be offering his advice to the 7 member school board in Johnston County.

If you’re thinking that this seems a little… geographically puzzling, you’re right.  Johnston County is located in the 7th congressional district, whereas Cawthorn represents the 11th congressional district. To get from Smithfield to Cawthorn's home in Henderson County, head West and in about four and a half hours (assuming you don’t need to stop for gas or a bite to eat), you’d finally enter the friendly confines of Hendersonville, NC. Along the way, you’ll pass through 6 other congressional districts. 

So, why would a member of Congress drive hundreds of miles out of his district to join a political novice from Tennessee and a few hundred other protestors to weigh in on a school board decision that doesn’t fall under even the most generous view of congressional power?   

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

State legislators make big decisions. So why do they get tiny paychecks?

By Christopher Cooper

Thanks to the Washington Post's Monkey Cage Blog for publishing a brief piece I wrote about misinformation about state legislative salaries. The post is based on analysis of a sample of >2000 people from four states (CA, NC, NH, WI), that was published in the journal Public Opinion Quarterly.

If you're interested in this topic, please also check out a related post on this blog that examined the North Carolina sample by itself, and a related short-form article published in The Assembly on the more general problem of low legislative pay. 

And, if you're interested in how Political Science research can help us understand current politics more generally (and if you're reading this blog, then I'm guessing you are), then I'd recommend bookmarking/following The Monkey Cage.

Link to Monkey Cage article: 


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

Monday, August 23, 2021

NC Politics Resources

by Christopher Cooper

Every now and again, someone asks me where to find resources about North Carolina politics and government. To help answer that question, I developed a resource guide about North Carolina politics. I hope it is useful for professors who are teaching North Carolina politics and their students, as well as for researchers, journalists, and other folks interested in politics and government in North Carolina.

Here's a link:

NC Politics and Government Resource Guide (note: last updated Sept 2)

This is very much a work in progress, so if you have suggestions, corrections, or additions, please send them to me at I'll post updates periodically.


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

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

What Might The NC General Assembly County Clusters Look Like? Insights From the 2020 Census

By Christopher Cooper

Last week was a big one in the world of redistricting in North Carolina. The General Assembly's Joint Redistricting Committee adopted redistricting guidelines for 2021, and the U.S. Census Bureau released its long-awaited population estimates down to the Census Block level--the redistricting equivalent of releasing two blockbuster films in the same week. 

While the General Assembly had considerable latitude in developing redistricting criteria, they will be somewhat more constrained in which counties will be clustered together in redistricting the General Assembly, thanks to the "county clustering rule" (AKA the Stephenson criteria). Based on insights developed in consultation with group of researchers, last week I speculated a bit about what the Census data and the county clustering rule might mean for redistricting. Now that the official data are released, we can gain a more accurate perspective on what might be in store.

Using the new Census data, and a code developed by Jonathan Mattingly, Greg Herschlag and a group of mathematicians from Duke University's Quantifying Redistricting Group, a team of researchers (including Mattingly, Herschlag, Blake Esselstyn from Frontwater, LLC and Mapfigure Consulting, Carolina Demography's Rebecca Tippett, and me) laid out the potential county clusters (both those that are all but certain and those where the mapmakers may have more choice) that will guide the redistricting process in North Carolina's General Assembly. 

We also discussed the potential for a few incumbents to be "double bunked," not by mapmaker intent, but as a casualty of the Stephenson criteria. Please see this link from Duke's Quantifying Gerrymandering web site for the report, and please keep an eye on the Quantifying Gerrymandering, Carolina Demography, districks, and Old North State Politics sites for more over the coming weeks and months. 


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