The Party Line
5:14 pm
Mon March 17, 2014

Many NC Legislative Winners Will Be Determined In May

My previous post looked at what has become one of the key competitive races for a U.S. Senate seat, following the closing of the filing period. But it won’t be just the U.S. Senate seat that will be up for grabs in May and November, but also all 170 seats in the North Carolina General Assembly. Or so one would think.

In looking at the candidate filing and the past voting patterns of the district lines under the new maps, the overall contest for North Carolina’s state legislature really won’t be as competitive as most would expect. 

What is surprising is that following the May primary, we will know the winners of half of North Carolina House of Representatives. That’s because no opposition candidate filed against the incumbent party in 60 races. In fact, only 17 of those races have primary opposition – leaving 43 seats with absolutely no competition.

So, why the lack of competition? One of the main reasons may be that very few seats are ‘competitive’ in looking at past voting patterns.

Using the Partisan Voting Index model to categorize districts from ‘competitive’ to ‘safe,’ only two of the 60 unchallenged seats saw the presidential voting in the district as ones that could be considered competitive. 

An example of a truly competitive seat would be House District 66 in Richmond and Montgomery counties. In 2012, its presidential results that were 51% Republican to 49% Democratic.  Using the PVI method, this district exactly mirrors the competitiveness of both parties’ presidential candidates and their state-wide results perfectly, meaning it would have a PVI of zero — a pure toss-up.

But this house district is only one of 18 total in the 120-member house, with Democrats defending four and Republicans the remaining fourteen.  However, even if Democrats retain their competitive seats and picked up every GOP competitive seat, it would still only give them a total of 54 seats — well below the majority of 61 needed to control the lower chamber.

In the upper chamber, the state Senate has 21 seats with no November competition: with the exception of 10 seats having primary challengers, over 40 percent of the state Senate will be determined before voters head to the fall polls. 

For the 50 senate seats, only eight could be considered competitive, with three of them being open seats.  All but two of these competitive seats could lean to the GOP; but even if the Democrats were able to pick up these eight, Republicans would still control the chamber with a majority made up of likely and strong GOP seats.

Much like observations about the U.S. House of Representatives, the decline of the “swing seat” in the North Carolina General Assembly means that the November elections are, for all practical purposes, pointless. 

Instead, the real action has shifted to the low voter turnout May primary elections, and for many seats, there is no electoral competition, thanks to the stacking of the districts in favor of one party over the other.