Charlotte’s electoral math

Electoral Math- Three things to watch Tuesday night

At times I’ve tried to make a living by delving deep into the numbers behind elections in Mecklenburg County.  This year, it’s just a hobby, and it’s more fun than ever.  In 2009,  I’ll watch whether Charlotte’s purple hue continues to separate into blue and red precincts, whether a multi-candidate District 3 race leads to a surprise winner and whether demographics are in fact destiny in the mayor’s race where early indications point to an Anthony Foxx victory.  As a disclaimer, these observations are mine alone.  I’ve taken pain to put my preferences aside to look objectively at the electoral numbers.  Also, I’m a political geek.

Blue/Red/Purple

Not too long ago, Charlotteans all over the city regularly split their ticket in multi-candidate at-large city council races.  I look at precincts as voting one of four ways: Straight Democrat (the 4 Democrats are the top 4 vote getters), Straight Republican (the 4 Republicans are the top 4 vote getters), Winner Ticket (the top 4 vote getters are the 4 candidates who win city wide) and Random Mix (the top 4 vote getters are of mixed partisanship, but at least one did not win a seat on council).  As recently as 1997, Charlotte held enough ticket splitting voters that Winner Ticket and Random Mix precincts dominated.  But recently, the straight ticket has taken control.  The chart below shows how many precincts fit into each category.

Straight D Straight R Winner Ticket Random Mix
1997 30 6 75 26
2007 67 43 13 41

Perhaps in 1997, candidates had more cross party appeal, perhaps voters were more likely to cross or perhaps each had an impact on the other.  The bottom line, Charlotte has been growing more partisan, or at least more segregated by partisanship.  Question 1 for 2009:  Will Charlotte’s move towards partisan divide continue?

Multi-candidate

Nothing will thwart a majority like a multi-candidate race.  Why does America have a two party system?  Our first past the post, winner take all, elector system dictates it.  Look at this year’s special election for the NY23 Congressional district.  The existence of two (essentially) Republican candidates has created the possibility that this district would elect its first Democratic candidate since the Republican Party was founded.  Knowing that the right/center-right vote was splitting, the Republican nominee has suspended her campaign to give the Conservative Party candidate the best chance.  Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board races have seen the same phenomena.  In 1995, an eight person race in District 1 led to the election of Pam Mange with a scant 24% of the vote.  Mange was widely viewed as more liberal than her district, but with more conservative candidates splitting the vote, she won a seat on the board with less than ¼ of the vote.

That is why the District 3 school board race is quite interesting.  The Democratic party holds a 65%-15% edge over Republicans.  While school board races are non-partisan on the ballot, they can be very partisan in their tone and in voters’ preferences.  With 9 candidates on the ballot, Question 2 for 2009: Will a fractured District 3 vote lead to a surprise winner?

Demographics as Destiny

Since Republican Pat McCrory has won

seven straight elections for Mayor, the move of Charlotte towards a Democratic city has been under reported.  The shift, however, is undeniable.  Since the 2007 election, the Democratic Party has added more than 47,000 voters,  while the GOP has added a scant 4,000.  (an additional 23,000 have registered unaffiliated).  As a result, for every Republican registered to vote in Charlotte, there is one unaffiliated voter and almost two Democrats.  That deserves restating:  of the registered voters in Charlotte 49% are Democrats and 26% are Republican.  And these aren’t your old Southern Democrats with conservative ideologies and a tendency to vote GOP.  In fact, more than half of Charlotte’s Democrats are African-American and many are relocated northeasterners from the progressive wing of the party.

For that reason, these early voting numbers are troubling for the campaign of John Lassiter (R).  While we don’t know how they voted, we do know who has voted early.  The chart is cross-tabulated by race as reported by the Board of Elections. As you will see, black Democrats have voted in greater number than white Republicans.

Party Total Asian Black American Indian Multiracial Other Unspecifie White
DEM 12783 39 8067 12 40 96 181 4348
REP 8124 22 119 6 2 83 77 7815
UNA 4493 75 748 12 22 85 161 3390

These demographics will give us the key to our first clue on elections night.  If Democrat Anthony Foxx wins black Democrats at the same rate that Lassiter wins white Republicans, then Lassiter will need to win a majority of Unaffiliated and white Democratic votes to be ahead.  If Foxx holds a 3000 vote lead or more when the early vote is reported, it will indicate that he is doing well among white Democratic voters and will likely expect victory a few hours later.  If however, the early vote shows Lassiter within 1000 votes or so, it will indicate that he is pulling a significant amount of both Unaffiliated and white Democrats. That will mean a long night where voter turnout becomes the key question.  Question 3- Does the early vote indicate Anthony Foxx holding Unaffiliated and white Democrats or is Lassiter winning most of those votes?

If the race is close after the early vote is recorded, the next question will be turnout and whether the early vote is representative of the overall election.  The next chart shows in the 2007 early vote, 2007 election day vote and 2009 early vote, the portion of the total voter population for each of our key demographic groups.  Two interesting observations.  First, in 2007, African-American voters were much more prevalent on Election Day than they were during early voting.  Second, African-American voters composed more than twice as much of the early voting population in 2009 as they did two years ago.

Total Black D Republicans White D Unafilliated
2007 Early 22,780 14.6% 38% 25% 21.3%
2007 Election Day 100,700 21.6% 36.3% 22.1% 18.8%
2009 Early* 25,400

23,997

31.7%

32.3%

31.2%

32.4%

17.1%

17%

17.6%

16.8%

All this leads to Question 4: Are demographics electoral destiny? If they are, Anthony Foxx will be the next mayor of Charlotte.

 

* It appears my initial analysis included mail-in absentee ballots which where requested but not returned.  The numbers have been recalculated excluding those voters.

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2 Responses to “Charlotte’s electoral math”

  1. Andy Dulin Says:

    Thanks for the work and #’s Brian.

  2. briandfrancis Says:

    Hopefully my reading of Charlotte politics is better than my reading of upstate New York politics, where the withdraw of the Republican candidate was apparently intended to help the Democratic nominee, not the Conservative nominee.

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1109/29047.html

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