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


Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Potential Political Implications of Legislative County Clustering in North Carolina

 by Christopher Cooper

What are the political implications of legislative county clustering in the North Carolina redistricting process? This is one of a series of posts involving the 2021 redistricting cycle in North Carolina’s General Assembly Districts. I’ll review some of the pertinent points before getting to my analysis, but if you want to get caught up on all of the details, I’d recommend reading these posts in the following order:


·      This post, written in September, 2019 from Blake Esselstyn gives a terrific background on the Stephenson decision and its implications for redistricting in North Carolina.


·      This piece from Jonathan Mattingly and his team on the quantifying gerrymandering blog explains the ways that the Stephenson criteria might be applied in 2021.


·      Rebecca Tippett at Carolina Demography has a terrific trio of blog posts on the demographic side of redistricting. The first explains the demographics in general, the second applies these lessons to the NC House and the third to the NC Senate.


·      Blake Esselstyn digs into the weeds and discusses the potential implications of one wrinkle in the possible Stephenson groupings.

Friday, August 6, 2021

What Precinct Polarization Might Tell Us About NC's Politics Before Redistricting Kicks Off

By Michael Bitzer

As the U.S. Census Bureau gets ready to release the data for redistricting activities in the states, a sense of what the "ground" in North Carolina politics looks like going into the "most political activity in American politics" would shine some light on the future maps and their designs.

North Carolina redistricting efforts are centered around a core set of principles, often referred to as the Stephenson criteria. Written by then Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake of the NC Supreme Court (a summary of the full criteria can be found in his majority opinion, starting on page 42), one of the key components is the "whole county" provision of the state constitution, which holds that for both state senate and house districts, "No county shall be divided in the formation..." of districts (Sections 3 & 5, sub-section 3 of Article II).

Therefore, when legislators begin their work, they will start with counties that can sustain legislative districts within themselves, and then work towards "clustering" other counties to develop districts as well (a good explanation of this principle is found here). 

But beyond the counties, one can dive even deeper into political geography through precincts (or voting tabulation districts ("VTDs")), which are the foundational geographic areas for election administration and where voters (who vote on Election Day) go to a central site to cast their ballots. 

Monday, August 2, 2021

Analysis of North Carolina in "The Almanac of American Politics"

One of the standard reference books for many of us is the "Almanac of American Politics," which profiles all 50 states and their political dynamics. Lou Jacobson, a long-time observer and analyst of American politics, provided the chapter on North Carolina for our readers.

The 2022 Almanac of American Politics 50th Commemorative Edition will be released this month (August 2021) and can be purchased online at or by calling 1-888-265-0600. 

You can also use the code “15AAP2022” for a 15% discount during check-out.

Lou begins his analysis of the Old North State with this passage:

In few states today is the political climate more polarized between rural and populated areas as it is in North Carolina—and in few states are the margins between the two parties so consistently narrow.

Along with a history of the state's politics, Lou analyzes the state's congressional districts and Governor Roy Cooper's first term and re-election bid in the chapter.