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. 

Friday, December 17, 2021

Does Party Competitiveness in NC's Primaries Drive Unaffiliated Voters One Way or the Other?

By Michael Bitzer

With the holidays looming, Cheri Beasley's campaign for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate got an early Christmas gift, coming in the form of fellow competitor Jeff Jackson's suspension of his campaign and endorsement yesterday. 

And with the primary election now two months later, thanks to the state gerrymandering lawsuit, Beasley's campaign gets to firm up her general campaign operations, including building a warchest for what will likely be one of the most expensive U.S. Senate races again in the nation. Republicans, however, will have to wait until May before what appears to be a bitter and brutal primary fight will be resolved. 

And while most of the focus will be on the candidates and their strategies towards May and ultimately November, there's one other important group of individuals to consider: the voters. As my colleagues and I have been looking at the rise of North Carolina's unaffiliated registered voter, we have the data collected to see who has shown up in past primaries, especially by voter party registration or, in the case of the unaffiliated voter, lack thereof. 

For the 2008 to 2020 primary elections, I collected each of the presidential and mid-term voter history data, which provides both the voter's party registration and the party primary selected. As a reminder, only partisan registered voters are allowed to participate in their primary, but unaffiliated registered voters can select either the Democratic or Republican primary ballot. 

Thursday, December 9, 2021

What Might Be The Electoral Dynamics of the 2022 Legislative Districts?

By Michael Bitzer

As I write this blog post on Thursday, Dec. 9, to say that this week has been yet another wild roller-coaster ride in the state's politics is probably stating the rather obvious. With the back and forth and back of candidate filing (or not) for the March 2022 primary election, the end result appears to be that the North Carolina Supreme Court has ordered the March primary to be moved to May, with all candidate filings suspended (not just for legislative races, but all contests). 

In that same order, the state's highest court directed the three-judge trial panel to hold its proceedings and issue their ruling by January 11, in about a month's time, a fairly quick turnaround considering the looming holidays. 

In this trial, the major question posed by those challenging the new congressional and state legislative district maps will center on the claim of partisan gerrymandering, as noted in the plaintiff's complaint:

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.