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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

Yes, Charlotte Mayor's Race Was Competitive, but...

Michael Bitzer
Michael Bitzer

In a recent opinion piece, the Charlotte Observer notes that perhaps this year’s Charlotte mayoral election paints the city more ‘purplish’ than partisan in its leanings. And at first glance, Democrat Jennifer Roberts’ victory over Republican Edwin Peacock with 52 percent of the vote certainly fall into the range that political scientists would describe as a ‘competitive’ election.

But as the Observer points out, only 15 precincts, or 9 percent of all the city precincts, were competitive – meaning the vote percentages fell within a 55-45 split between the two candidates. 

And in looking at the precincts where one candidate secured over 65 percent of the vote, over two-thirds of Charlotte’s precincts (70 percent) were heavily favored to one party.

But the deep partisanship isn’t just by the pure vote totals. In looking at other factors, such as racial characteristics, registered voters in precincts that were ‘strong’ (65 percent and over) for Peacock, the precincts were an average of 87 percent white, while only 6 percent black. The average party registrations were 42 percent GOP, 32 percent unaffiliated, and only 26 percent Democratic.

Conversely, those ‘strong Roberts’ precincts were, on average, 27 percent white and 62 percent black, while party registration was heavily Democratic (66 percent), with 23 percent unaffiliated and only 10 percent Republican.

Among the few competitive Charlotte precincts, registered voters were, on average, 69 percent white, 22 percent black, 40 percent Democratic, 32 percent unaffiliated, and 27 percent Republican.

Another factor was the abysmal turnout. Strong Peacock precincts had an average turnout of 26 percent, while strong Roberts precincts had an average turnout of only 12 percent of registered voters. But considering the number of votes in strong Roberts/Democratic precincts was over 23,000, compared to 11,100 votes in strong Peacock/Republican precincts, a lower voter turnout in Democratic precincts could still produce almost an equal number of voters from higher voter turnout in strong GOP precincts.

This non-competitive voting pattern, broken down to the precinct level, has been developing for quite some time. In a 2013 analysis of Charlotte and Mecklenburg counties precincts, the deep reds and blues tended to be much more pronounced between 2008 and 2012, while a shift in some competitive precincts to lean Democratic were also noticeable.

Odd-year elections are notoriously difficult to read the tea leaves for how the next major election plays out. Jonathan Chait of New York magazine argues that the decline of the swing voter, and the hardening of the partisan voter, has only antagonized the “sorting of American politics into semipermanent, warring camps.”

If Charlotte is a microcosm of the state of American politics, the lack of competitive precincts seems to indicate that the polarization of precincts has made it harder to envision how any politician, whether running for mayor or president, can truly bridge the warring camps.

Dr. Michael Bitzer is an associate professor of politics and history at Catawba College, where he also serves as the 2011-2012 Swink Professor for Excellence in Classroom Teaching and the chair of the department of history & politics. A native South Carolinian, he holds graduate degrees in both history and political science from Clemson University and The University of Georgiaââ