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.