A quick autopsy of Charlotte’s 2009 election

The great thing about elections:  hypotheses are tested and questions are answered.  A campaign manager can tell a candidate, “We need to win these precincts by this much in order to win.”  On election day, you find out not only if you could win those precincts but if you were right that they were the key to victory.”  I didn’t put forward any such hypotheses this year, but I did raise some questions.  Let’s answer them:

Question 1 for 2009:  Will Charlotte’s move towards partisan divide continue?

Citing at-large city council races from 1997 and 2005, I suggested Charlotte was growing more divided on partisan lines.  I broke precincts into four categories “Straight Democrat,” “Straight Republican,” “Winner Ticket” and “Random Mixed.”  I did hear some concern about picking just two data points, so before we look at 2009, let’s look at all four elections in the last 12 years in which both parties ran 4 candidates for at-large city council.

Straight D Straight R Winner Ticket Random Mixed
1997 30 6 75 26
2001 42 60 23 33
2005 74 41 2 49
2007 67 43 13 41

Obviously, the addition of 2001, and 2005 alter the view of a steadily progressing march towards partisanship.  Apparently, the national political climate, candidates and campaigns make a difference.  No doubt.  I draw two conclusions from this data that are more nuanced than “Charlotte is becoming more divided by partisanship.”  1.  Straight party Democratic precincts are on the rise.  2.  When precincts split tickets, they are more likely to give their votes to candidates who don’t win.  So what did 2009 deliver?  More partisanship.

Straight D Straight R Winner Ticket Random Mixed
2009 87 52 13 17

Question 2 for 2009: Will a fractured District 3 vote lead to a surprise winner?

This wasn’t a perfectly worded question, as someone could certainly say that they were surprised by Joyce Waddell’s victory.  But it wasn’t the type of surprise I contemplated.  In fact, considering there were 9 candidates, the outcome was surprisingly predictable.  The runner-up had been endorsed by the Charlotte Observer.  The winner had the nod of the Black Political Caucus.  Since the Black Political Caucus hands out their list at the polls and the Observer does not, it really isn’t that surprising that their endorsement is apparently more impactful, at least in this district.  Here were the district 3 results:

Nicole E. Hudson                          19.20%            3,182

Joel Levy                                      3.54%              586

Vivian C. Mitchel                           12.32%            2,042

Mr. Hans Peter Plotseneder         4.04%              669

Aaron J. Pomis                     7.03%              1,164

James Ross II                        9.27%              1,536

Teresa Tudor                          3.01%              499

Joyce Waddell                       31.96%            5,296

W. L. (Pop) Woodard               9.42%              1,560

Question 3- Does the early vote indicate Anthony Foxx (D) holding Unaffiliated and white Democrats or is John Lassiter (R) winning most of those votes?

I offered this guidance last weekend:

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.

That guidance really wasn’t helpful when the two split the difference and Foxx emerged from the early vote with a 2,200 vote lead.  Implicit in my projection, however, was that the Democratic get-out-the-vote machine would carry the early vote but Lassiter would make up ground on Election Day.  That didn’t happen.  Foxx not only won early voting, he won Election Day voting.  And, while we don’t have exit data to help us, if we assume that Foxx won the African-American vote at about the same rate that Lassiter won the Republican vote, then we can deduce that Foxx won the White-Democrat/Unaffiliated vote by about 3-1.  That will do it.

Question 4: Are demographics electoral destiny?

We won’t know for several weeks what the demographic breakdown was on Election Day, so I’m going to use this space to add my opinion to the “key precinct” analysis that you may have seen elsewhere.  The Charlotte Observer cites 30 precincts that voted for Republican Pat McCrory in 2007 and Foxx in 2009.  Meanwhile, Jeff Taylor at MeckDeck points to low turnout in some south Charlotte precincts as the “bigger story.”  I’ve always believed that when you lose a close race (51.5 % to 48.5% in this case) there isn’t one thing that cost you, there are twelve.  If you’d turned any one of them around, you might have one.  Similarly, if you win a close race, you didn’t do one thing right, you did twenty.  And if you had done any one of those wrong, it could have cost you.  Having said that, I point to these nine precincts that made the difference.  Across these precincts, Anthony Foxx picked up 3,454 votes net against Lassiter compared to how Democrat Beverly Earle fared against Republican Pat McCrory two years ago.  Foxx’s margin of victory, 3,239

Precinct Name (Number) Earle margin Foxx margin Difference
McCrory YMCA (210) 662 1241 579
Hickory Grove North (145) -726 -156 570
Oasis Shrine Temple (212) 86 649 563
East Stonewall AME Zion (16) 676 1034 358
Back Creek (204) 120 476 356
Greater Mount Moriah (11) -57 292 349
Robinson Presbyterian Church (203) N/A 345 345
Turning Point Academy (146) 73 407 334

These precincts really illustrate the different ways that Foxx won.  Precincts 210 and 16 are Democratic strongholds where Foxx used voter turnout to improve upon his party’s effort two years ago.  (In precinct 16, Foxx won 1037-3.  THREE!  You’d expect Lassiter to get more than 3 votes just by people accidently pushing the wrong button).  These are reliable boxes where the Democratic machine picked up votes.

Precinct 203 was a new precinct for this election, added through annexation.  It provided one of Foxx’s biggest swings and perhaps sheds light on precinct 145.  John Lassiter won this precinct that includes Highland Creek but not by a significantly lower margin than McCrory in ’07.  This precinct grew due to annexation, and it’s not clear if the vote swing was the result of attitude changes or annexation.

Foxx also did well on the edges of the University area (212, 204, 203), just outside of downtown (11) and the Derita area (146).

If you want to know more about these crucial precincts, CharlotteObserver.com has a useful interactive map.  Hover over a precinct to see its name and number, click on it to get demographic information.  Then let me know what you think all of this means for 2011 and beyond


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One Response to “A quick autopsy of Charlotte’s 2009 election”

  1. Brian Cox Says:

    I think it might be simply…Foxx is not Earle, Madans, or Scarborough.

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