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.

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. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

An Early Look at 2022's NC US Senate Race Fundraising

By Whitney Ross Manzo

Everyone knows fundraising is critical to the success of political campaigns, and in the post-Citizens United world of campaign finance, the amount needed to be successful is ever-increasing. In the 2020 election cycle, over $14 billion was spent, more than doubling the previous record holder of the 2016 election cycle! Part of that spending was for the two most expensive Senate races ever, in Georgia, where both the Republicans and the Democrats spent enormous sums in order to secure partisan control of the US Senate. There is every indication that the 2022 US Senate race in North Carolina will also be a record breaker for two main reasons.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

How Might Politics Impact NC's County COVID Vaccination Percentages?

By Michael Bitzer

As with many things nowadays, partisanship and polarization has infected many aspects of our society; not just our political lives, but things that 'normally' one might consider apolitical. With the intensity of what we see in our polarized environment, pretty much any issue, especially those seen as a public policy, becomes framed in partisan dimensions. 

Recently, political scientist Seth Masket at the University of Denver noted that the relationship between how a state voted in the 2020 presidential election and its percentage of adults who have received at least one COVID vaccine is "remarkably strong," at a level of 0.85 correlation which is something social scientists "almost never see this high a correlation between variables." This relationship was also found by another political scientist, Tom Pepinsky, regarding county-level data.

In fact, Masket found that vaccination rates are a "better predictor" of state voting patterns than what we normally think of as predictive (read, in statistical language, independent) variables such as race, education, or other demographic factors. 

Beyond just analyzing the fifty states, Masket analyzed Colorado's counties to evaluate the role of vaccination and voting patterns in 2020, and found another remarkable correlation/relationship between the two (at 0.835, where a 1.0 would mean the two variables are identical in their relationship and that one variable perfectly explains the other variable).

For those of us who study state politics and are interested in a particular state, this type of analysis is fairly simple: take the 2020 county-level election results (say, the 100 counties of North Carolina and their vote for Trump) and the vaccination rates by counties and see how the two numbers relate to each other. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Innumeracy and General Assembly Salary

By Christopher Cooper

State legislators don’t make much money for their legislative service, and that’s an understatement. In North Carolina, they receive $13,951 a year, plus a mileage reimbursement and a per diem for time in session. This paltry salary has wide-ranging implications for understanding North Carolina politics, as I discussed in this piece for The Assembly. 


Despite the problems of staggeringly low legislative pay, efforts to increase legislative pay have not progressed very far in the Tar Heel State. I have always suspected that one reason why that may be the case is that the average North Carolinian drastically overestimates how much legislators make. If that’s the case, would correcting these misperceptions help? I tried to answer those questions in some recent research that I published in the journal Public Opinion Quarterly


The paper includes data from ~2000 registered voters four states: California, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and New Hampshire—states that vary in terms of legislative salary (with California at the top of the salary scale, New Hampshire at the bottom and Wisconsin and North Carolina in the middle), region, and partisanship. In this post, though, I’ll just focus on North Carolina.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

"Late" Absentee by Mail Voters: Who Are They?

By Michael Bitzer

With the passage in the state senate of Bill 326, the move to require absentee by mail ballots by received by Election Day, instead of three days afterwards, has cleared half a legislative hurdle. This legislation was brought about due to the controversy over the extension in 2020's election of receiving absentee by mail ballots from three days after the election to nine days. 

But how big an issue are mail-in ballots arriving after Election Day in North Carolina? Luckily, the N.C. State Board of Elections' public data allows us to see how many mail-in ballots were received and accepted after election day and what kind of partisan (and other) dynamics, if any, are at work. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

An Early Look at NC's Primaries for the Open US Senate Seat

By Susan Roberts and Michael Bitzer

Recent attention to former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Representative Ted Budd (R-NC 13) for the Republican nomination to North Carolina's U.S. Senate seat is instructive for several reasons. Beyond sending a cue to Republican primary voters of who the former president supports, perhaps most important aspect is the significance of NC as a battleground state and the fact that the seat could be one that determines control of the Senate itself.

But for both the Republican and Democratic primaries, important dynamics also weigh in on who will claim each party's nomination for what many consider a national race centered once again in the Old North State. We take a look at the general dynamics of mid-term elections, with an introductory focus on the primary battles shaping up in both parties for the 2022 contest. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

A “Perfect Storm” for Pro-Life Activists?

By Susan Roberts

Conservative attacks on reproductive rights are once again in the news. Headlines were made when Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court, and pro-choice advocates could only imagine the restrictions on access to abortion that would result. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey made headlines by enacting the nation’s most restrictive bill on prevention of abortion at the sign of a fetal heartbeat, and pro-lifers anticipated a snowball effect of similar pieces of legislation around the country. 

Most recently, Arizona GOP legislator Walter Blackman made headlines when he said his pro-life proposal was “perfect” because it would prosecute women having abortion for homicide, and providers characterized the legislation as “nothing less than appalling.”  Indeed, pro-life advocates are very encouraged, and pro-choice activists are very worried.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Can You "Claim Credit" When You Voted Against The Bill? Yes. Yes You Can.

By Michael Bitzer

Following passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, which contains the latest round of stimulus checks and other policy initiatives, Republican Representative Madison Cawthorn, of North Carolina's Eleventh Congressional District, sent two tweets announcing several grants issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and funded through the ARA that would impact his western North Carolina district:

This is a classic example, from political science research, of 'credit claiming' by legislators to send cues and signals to their constituents (especially to the voters back home) of the member's legislative impact for the district. 

And yet, on the actual vote for the ARA, Cawthorn was a "nay" vote, voting against the legislation by proxy, and issued a statement that read, in part:

Friday, March 19, 2021

What Might SB 326 Mean in Practice?

By Christopher Cooper

The "Election Integrity Act," SB 326 was filed in the NC Senate on March 18, 2021 by Senators Daniel, Newton, and Hise. The bill has a number of provisions, including (1) "prohibit[ing] the state board of elections and county boards of elections from accepting private monetary donations for certain purposes," (2) "appropriat[ing] funds to establish a program to identity and assist voters needing photo identification",  (3) "amend[ing] the date by which a voter must request an absentee ballot, and (4) amending the date by which a "mail-in absentee ballot must be received."

While the first two provisions are important and worthy of study, the third and fourth policy changes are ready-made for the type of empirical analysis that we try to provide on this blog. In this brief entry, I report results from a simple simulation of whose votes would not have been counted and who's would have been rejected in the past two General Elections if SB 326 had been the law.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Special Event: Levine Museum of the New South's "What is it going to take? Overthrowing Democracy"

By Michael Bitzer

On Tuesday, March 16, beginning at 7 PM, I'll have the pleasure of talking with David Zucchino about his book, "Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy." The event is part of the Levine Museum of the New South's series on "What Is It Going To Take? Overthrowing Democracy," which attempts to place the January 6th insurrection into historical and modern context.

The event is free, and will be streamed on the museum's webpage, YouTube account, and Facebook page

Monday, March 8, 2021

Voting Rights Hanging in the Balance

By Susan Roberts

Following the historic turnout in Election 2020, states across the country are contemplating or crafting legislation to change access to the ballot box. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, these restrictive proposals are born of the claims of voter and election fraud widely circulated by President Trump and his supporters. The Brennan Center, the go-to tracker of such legislation, estimates that around 240 pieces of restrictive legislation have been introduced in 43 states. Moreover, these proposed regulations are not limited to “swing” or “battleground” states. As of March 4, North Carolina has not passed any such legislation this year, but given controversial efforts in the last ten years, it may be simply a matter of time until such proposals come to the General Assembly.

By and large, there was agreement by state officials that 2020 was one of the most free and fair elections in recent memory. Indeed, a recent report from The Hoover Institution, an influential and conservative think tank, used rigorous statistical modeling to evaluate the claims of election illegalities and found no validity to support fraud allegations. The failure of the over fifty lawsuits contesting elections results further debunks claims of election corruption.

Four considerations can shed light on the issue of voting rights changes following Election 2020: (1) the number and scope of proposed regulations, (2) the pending Supreme Court case of Bronovich v. Democratic National Committee, (3) the package of proposed changes in Georgia, and (4) the potential long term impact of the claims of voter fraud.  

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Reflections on National Term Limits Day

By Christopher Cooper

February 27 was National Term Limits day. While it didn’t exactly sweep the nation, politicians and citizens alike posted on Twitter (#TermLimitsDay), placed signs in their yard, and otherwise let it be known that they thought politicians’ terms should be limited. Heck, there’s even a podcast devoted to the movement.


Surveys that ask about the issue consistently find that term limits are popular with the public. For example, a McLaughlin and Associates survey found that 82% of the public supports term limits. A 2013 GallupPoll came to a similar conclusion—75% of the people surveyed supported term limits for members of the US House and Senate. Various state polls also indicate strong support for term limits. The polling data are clear: people like term limits.


It's easy to understand why term limits are so popular: trust in government is at an all-time low, people don’t like Congress, they don’t like their state legislature, they don’t like politicians in general, and yet incumbents win the vast majority of the time. So, why don’t we just “throw the bums out” and start over every few years?


The problem is that term limits don’t solve the problems they were meant to solve. They introduce new ones. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Getting What We Pay For

By Chris Cooper

I am pleased that The Assembly, a new "digital magazine about the people, institutions, and ideas" that shape North Carolina recently published my piece, "Getting What We Pay For." In it, I make the case that we should give more resources (salary, staff, session length) to members of our General Assembly. I thought readers of this blog might be interested in the piece, and in what the folks at The Assembly are doing.

Monday, February 22, 2021

A Conversation about Trumpism vs. Trumpian vs. The Party of Trump

In this ‘conversation’ blog piece, the four of us (Whitney Ross Manzo, aka WRM; Michael Bitzer, aka MB; Chris Cooper, aka CC; and Susan Roberts, aka SR) consider recent developments within the Republican Party and what “Trumpism” may, or may not, necessarily mean in our politics. 

Just to get a sense of things before we dive into the specifics, how do you teach what a political party is to your students?

WRM: I use V.O. Key’s famous 3-part description: the party in government, the party organization, and the party in the electorate. The hardest part is getting students to understand the difference between the party organization and the party in government, because usually the party organization is unknown to all except the most ardent political watchers. When you add in all 50 states’ party organizations, the “organization” becomes even more murky.

MB: Same for me. And, for the most part, students tend to find the “triangle’s corners” fairly easy to remember (especially in my Southern accent): PIG, PIE, and PAO (the last one is a bit weird, granted, but it’s basically “pay-oo”). And not just with students, but with reporters as well. To me, it makes a clear sense of how a party might be ‘viewed,’ and with those three corners, where perhaps Trump’s greatest influences might be found. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Slow Erosion of Swing Counties in North Carolina

By Christopher Cooper

Anyone with even a passing familiarity of American politics is well-aware of the "swing state" concept--the idea that most states are increasingly locked into one party or the other, whereas a small number of swing states can "swing" from one party to the other. 

In the past few elections, there has been increasing attention on swing counties--counties (often situated in battleground states), that could swing from one party to the other, from one election to the next. As this brief post will demonstrate, North Carolina counties are increasingly red or blue and the number of "swing counties" is at an all-time low. This trend has important implications for polarization and for the future of North Carolina and American politics.

Monday, February 8, 2021

When Parachuting Journalists Don't Even Bother Jumping Out of the Plane

By Michael Bitzer 

A recent article in The Atlantic is getting a lot of play in the Old North State's political arena by asking the question, "What Does This Man Know That Other Democrats Don't?", regarding the success that North Carolina governor Roy Cooper has had over his political career. 

In the article, the author traces Cooper's time as a state representative up to currently serving as the state's chief executive officer (note to author: we don't call our state representatives "general assemblyman," but rather our legislature is known as the General Assembly, with representatives and senators who compose the bicameral body).

And while several of the state's leading political strategists weighed in on Cooper's success and trying to define it, there was no mentioned made of several important facets that could have helped further explain, or at least address, the question "what's so different about Roy Cooper winning in North Carolina?"

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Georgia, North Carolina, and the Illusion of "Turning Blue"

The Asheville Citizen Times is kind enough to give me some space every now and again to write about politics. This piece is about the similarities and differences between Georgia and North Carolina (TLDR? Their outcomes were almost identical, despite the fact that one "turned blue" and the other "stayed red.") I thought it might be of interest to readers of this blog. Please click through to read the whole piece and, if you're not already a subscriber, please consider a subscription to the Citizen Times.

By Chris Cooper

On Nov. 4, 2020, the eye of the constantly moving political storm shifted to the 59,425 square miles that make up the state of Georgia. Not only did Georgia surprise political observers by giving its 16 electors to Joe Biden on Nov. 3, but thanks to quirky runoff rules, and a nationally competitive environment, majority control of the U.S. Senate was ultimately determined by voters in the Peach State. 

Georgia was generally considered a “second tier swing state” prior to the election, as opposed to North Carolina, which was generally considered one of the states most likely to swing.  After the votes were counted, a series of articles soon appeared attempting to explain why Georgia “flipped blue” and North Carolina “stayed red.”

Please click through to read the rest:


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

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

ONSP Contributors on the Tying It Together Podcast

Drs. Chris Cooper, Susan Roberts, and Michael Bitzer talked with Tim Boyum of Spectrum News 1 for his podcast Tying It Together about the calls for "unity" and share their thoughts about what that means and how it can be achieved, if it can. 

You can find the podcast here or on any of your favorite podcast venues. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Exploring NC's Republican Switchers

By Susan Roberts & Michael Bitzer

As has been noted in several news articles, numerous North Carolina registered Republican voters have left the party to another registration, most notably going 'unaffiliated' in their party status. Some speculation for the switch could be due to the storming of the Capitol at January 6th insurrection.  

Yet even before the divisive nature of the 2020 election came to a head, public opinion polls have shown a deepening and unsettling frustration with the two major parties since the 2000s. However, a closer examination is needed of the actual number of North Carolina Republicans abandoning their party label in the context of the 2020 Election, its aftermath, and potentially in light of the events of January 6. 

Party registration can be fluid, and in this day of intense party polarization, it might be thought that only the true partisan—the loyalists, the die-hards—associates with a party, while other voters may want to avoid the public party label for the comfort of being ‘unaffiliated’ in their party registration status (granted, this could be just one of many reasons). Even before the divisive election of Donald Trump in 2016, some Americans were calculating the social desirability of identifying with either party

But while a few weeks data can paint a picture of the party switchers, we decided to look more broadly and deeply into the data to see what has happened since the general election last year, and in particular who these North Carolina GOP defectors are, based on some key demographic details. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

A Brief Look Back at the Green and Constitution Parties in North Carolina

By Chris Cooper

This week's memo from the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) lays it out pretty clearly: “the Constitution and Green Party are no longer recognized political parties in North Carolina.”  As of January 27, 2021, neither party is listed listed on the voter registration application (h/t Gerry Cohen, the oracle of NC election law, for linking this on his Twitter account). Unless they can successfully re-qualify for ballot access before the February 22, 2021 meeting of the NCSBE (h/t to everybody's favorite Libertarian candidate, Sean Haugh for spelling this out clearly), members of both parties will have their party affiliation switched automatically to Unaffiliated. 

The elimination of both parties wasn't done out of spite, but rather because neither party achieved "the required 2% of the total vote for their candidate for governor or for presidential electors in the 20202 general election” (see this piece from Danielle Battaglia for a good run-down on what happened).

Given the impending demise of both parties, it seems like as good a time as any to take a look at life and times of the Green and Constitution parties to see if it can teach us anything about the future of party registration in the Old North State.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

ONSP "Vlog" Episode 4: Is 2021 vying to be 2020 version 2.1?

Well, 2021 certainly is trying to up the ante on 2020: from insurrection to impeachment to an inauguration, the first few weeks of January has been historic...yet again.

So, it was time to gather the Old North State Politics crew together for our fourth 'vlog,' which can be found here and on YouTube, along with the audio file on Soundcloud.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Eliminate the Literacy Test from the North Carolina Constitution

By Chris Cooper

The Charlotte Observer was kind enough to publish a brief piece I wrote arguing that we should eliminate the literacy test from the North Carolina Constitution. I thought Old North State Politics readers might be interested (and a few might be in a position to advocate for change), so I thought I'd link to it here:

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


Friday, January 8, 2021

Some Personal Thoughts

A preface to this post: although these words, thoughts, and experiences are written by Michael Bitzer, the other members of the ONSP team support and agree with the sentiments expressed in this statement. This is a tough time in American politics, and it is going to take clear eyes to find a better way forward. As Political Scientists, we are committed to working towards a better functioning democracy. We can do better.

By Michael Bitzer

I write this on behalf of myself, but after consultation, the blog's fellow contributors have indicated their support for the following. We make clear, however, that we do so in our personal capacities and do not speak for our respective institutions.

I posted the following on Twitter, because I felt, at the end of this very long and tragic week, I needed to try and express my thoughts as simply and directly as I could. It’s long and is not intended to be a scholarly piece, but rather a summation of personal beliefs and experiences. I was intentional in crafting the piece's structure. I want the words to speak for themselves. It will offend some. It will give hope to others. I hope, for most, it will make you think. 

For me, it’s the only way that I can truly make sense of what we are experiencing. This is how I am feeling, as someone who has read, studied, thought, and ultimately tried to convey what it means to be an American, both historically and politically, for literally the past thirty years. And after this week’s events, we need to each ask ourselves something. And thus, the beginning of this thread. 

A question for every American: 

Do you support fascism or do you support freedom? 

And yes, it's that simple. 

If you can't answer that question, or pick the side that represents America and American values, then you've decided.

It is simply time to take account. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

A First Look at 2020's Election Turnout: GOP & Suburban Voters Dominated

By Michael Bitzer

Thursday, January 7 at 12:52 PM: I had written this blog post yesterday morning, on January 6, thinking that I would get it done before the joint Congressional session for the Electoral Count began, watch the proceedings unfold, and return to this piece this morning for one last glance and editing. Here's what I had as an original opening:

It's been an interesting start to the new year, or what some might describe (with everything going on) as '2020 version 2.1.'

Little did I realize what would transpire during the Electoral Count would fundamentally shake me to my core--as both a political scientist and historian and as an American citizen. But 24 hours later, with the physical illness feeling gone and in its place, a smoldering sense of professional and personal rage, I returned back to this blog piece to see if I had the stomach to hit "Publish" in the midst of everything else going on. 

And I paused. Staring at the blinking cursor. 

But then I realized: after everything that transpired, Congress went on its business last night. They reconvened after the insurrection had been removed from the Capitol, even amidst the destruction, disheveled desks and lecterns, and likely lingering tear gas. They proceeded to do their job, their constitutional duty and the responsibility they hold as elected officials under their oath of office. 

And so should I, although nowhere near the importance that they had. 

So, I posit the above as it may be a bit 'jarring' to the reader to then dive into my analysis of voter turnout rates and electoral composition. But as such, even with the continued constitutional crisis playing out as I type this sentence (and I realize that some may feel I am a bit hyperbolic in my word choices--trust me when I say, I am not), we must proceed on. 

Therefore, taking the above original opening with a grain of salt following the past 24 hours, here's the analysis.


But for those of us who are data geeks, the end of 2020 finally brought some welcomed news. North Carolina's voter history data file is now updated with 5.5 million records from the 2020 general election, giving us the definitive insight into who showed up last November in the record breaking election. 

For this post, I'll be looking at the turnout rates for various groups, based on the December 5, 2020 voter registration data file (allowing some counties to finalize voter registrations, but isolating those few voters who registered after early voting was completed). Out of the 7.4 million registered voters, 5.5 million cast a ballot, making North Carolina history with a 75 percent turnout rate in a presidential year in the past fifty years.