Senate District 37 and the Suburban McCrory-Johnson Voter

The other day, my friends and I were talking about the redrawn NC state legislative maps (as one does, of course) and decided to figure out the partisan lean of a few of them. Specifically, we saw a tweet from the charismatic darling of the Twitterverse, Jeff Jackson, claiming that you need to donate to him right this minute because he’d been redistricted and Republicans would love to unseat him.

Of course, this made us pretty curious as to how competitive his seat was, so I knocked it together using a tool called Dave’s Redistricting App, which is a tool for total losers like us who care about how electoral districts are drawn. It’s actually pretty fun in a really nerdy way, they have a lot of data and it’s a great tool for doing some quick analysis like this. What I discovered is that Senator Jackson is probably pretty safe, given that both Hillary Clinton and Roy Cooper won the new district by over ten points. (Still, it’s definitely a good thing that he’s not complacent — after all, we want to keep him around!)

I also decided to mock up some precinct-level maps of the new district in QGIS, because that wasn’t the only interesting thing I noticed. If you look at the races purely in terms of the margins, it turns out that Hillary Clinton, despite losing North Carolina, actually outran Roy Cooper in the district (Roy Cooper, of course, won the state and went on to become our current Governor): Clinton won the district by 12 percentage points, whereas Cooper only won it by 10.2. That said, in terms of raw vote total, Cooper slightly outran Clinton, netting 53.9% of the vote to her 53.0%. A much more striking difference is that Pat McCrory performed 2.7 points better than Donald Trump.

Please note that absentee by mail (i.e. early voting), curbside, and provisional ballots are not included in this discussion. The reason for this is that the North Carolina State Board of Elections treats these totals as their own precincts within the counties when posting their data, and so those numbers cannot be readily isolated for only Senate District 37 with publicly available data.

They key difference, then, comes in the third party vote share — the number of people who voted for neither of the two major candidates in either race. 3,699 more people voted for a third-party or write-in candidate in the Presidential race than in the Gubernatorial race. While we do have to contend with the factor that the Gubernatorial election only had a Libertarian third-party candidate where the Presidential featured a candidate from both the Libertarian and Green parties, Jill Stein’s meager 255 votes cannot account for the difference.

Taking a look at the third-party vote totals for Senate District 37, we find that Lon Cecil, the Libertarian candidate for Governor, received 2,216 votes. In the Presidential race, Gary Johnson (LIB) received 3,654, Jill Stein (GRN) received 255 votes, and miscellaneous write-in candidates (absent from the totals in the Gubernatorial race) received 1,667 votes. While this can also be partially accounted for by the lack of eligible write-in candidates in the Gubernatorial race, it’s still really interesting to see Gary Johnson get 1,438 more votes than Lon Cecil.

This is especially intriguing given that Clinton and Cooper’s vote share is actually nearly identical (it differs by a few hundred votes that can be accounted for easily by the undervote and votes for Stein and other left-wing write-in candidates). It’s Donald Trump whose vote share suffers. The implication is that several thousand people voted for Gary Johnson or other write-in candidates in the Presidential race but were perfectly comfortable voting for Pat McCrory.

Jeff Jackson’s new district is 72% white, and much of it is suburban. The district only really brushes against Uptown Charlotte, and very quickly gets into a portion of Mecklenburg County which abounds in large country clubs and private day schools. And a lot of that darker green you see in the south of the Presidential third-party vote share map is that part of the district. The voters who live there are probably like a lot of the swing voters who helped throw the US House toward Democrats in 2018: they aren’t opposed to GOP fiscal policies, but aren’t necessarily on board with their social platform, and, above everything else, find Donald Trump personally repugnant. Perhaps we see the initial stirrings of their revolt here, where the unusually high third-party vote share seems to take primarily from Trump’s total. It’s tempting to look at the overall pattern and see premonitions of that suburban rejection of the Trump GOP, and perhaps gives us a glimpse into what lies ahead for us in 2020.

Data courtesy of the North Carolina State Board of Elections,
Maps produced in QGIS 3.8.

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