There’s an article over at Carolina Journal that Republicans are sharing widely that claims to prove that gerrymandering is not a problem. The methodology the guy uses is so flawed that I’m surprised somebody didn’t stop it. It just further erodes the John Locke Foundation’s credibility as a think tank and shows that the organization is morphing into a group of Republican propaganda outlet.
The author of the article is opinion editor David Lawson. He begins by criticizing Governor Roy Cooper for blaming gerrymandering for the veto proof majorities Republican hold in the state house and state senate. Then, he shifts to argue that Democrats also gerrymandered when they were in office, using the last Congressional maps drawn by Democrats to prove his point. Then he uses the current maps in the state house and state senate to assert that current Republican gerrymandering is not egregious but reflects the electorate. But he’s just flat out wrong.
First, comparing Congressional Districts to legislative districts is, as the saying goes, like comparing apples and oranges. The real blunder, though, is misinterpreting the voter data. According to the data in his charts, 110 Republican house candidates garnered 57% of the vote and 90 Democratic house candidates received 42% of the vote. The GOP ended up 59% of the seats in the house and Democrats with 41%. He says that just shows that the results reflect the will of the voters.
But that’s not how it works with a collection of districts. Had Democrats fielded 110 candidates, those additional 20 candidates would have cut the difference between the GOP and Democratic percentages to somewhere in the low- to mid-single digits. Yet Republicans would still hold 59% of the seats despite winning less than about 53% of the vote. So, yes, gerrymandering is the problem for Democrats. Arguing that GOP votes reflect the will of the voters is misinformation, whether it’s deliberately misleading or just ignorance.
Just to show my math, if 90 Democrats received 1,463,259 votes, then they averaged 16,258 votes per district. If those 20 missing candidates had received the average vote, they would have added 325,168 votes to the Democratic total, giving them 1,788,428 votes, or 47.4% of the total. Republicans would have received 52.6%. That may not be perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot closer to reality than the drivel over at the Carolina Journal.
The author could have argued that Democrats’ failure to recruit candidates masks how lobsided the districts really are, but he can’t argue that the current margins in the legislature reflects the will of the voters. And he certainly can’t argue that most people want the governor’s veto checked. Cooper won statewide twice. Surely, he’s a closer reflection to the will of the people than the heavily-gerrymandered, veto-proof legislature.
Larison’s understanding of trends, though, is not limited to vote totals. He wrote last week that the high in-migration to the state will continue to shift it towards Republicans. He thinks conservative policies are attracting the newcomers. He’s just wrong again.
First, the state has been one of the fast growing in the nation since the late 1980s. It’s actually slowed a bit under GOP rule. More importantly, though, people are moving into urban areas and voting more Democratic, not more Republican. The vast majority of GOP counties are losing population. The only newcomers supporting Republicans in any numbers are the wealthy, largely white, older retirees moving to a few choice spots in the state. Those voters don’t care about schools, transportation, or even economic development and they are mitigating the impact of the younger, more diverse voters who are moving here build careers and raise families .
The newcomers following jobs are voting increasingly for Democrats, making counties like Cabarrus, Union, and Johnston a lighter shade of red. When they realize how far to the right Republicans are dragging the state, they’ll vote even more heavily for Democrats in the coming years. We saw similar trends in the 1990s when people moved to Raleigh and Charlotte and initially voted for Republicans. When they realized what kind of Republicans we have in North Carolina, they quickly shifted direction and made Wake and Mecklenburg heavily Democratic counties.
Lawson is correct on a few things. Democrats really do have some problems. They need to do a much better job in candidate recruitment, even in districts where they can’t win. It’s about building organization and brand recognition. They need to stop hemorrhaging votes in rural areas. Having qualified candidates who can counter the GOP narrative helps do that. Finally, they need to motivate young voters to go the polls. The state is pretty evenly divided regardless of gerrymandering and Democrats need to show that consistently, not just in presidential years.
The real story here, though, is the change in the John Locke Foundation. They’ve shifted from an organization of conservative policy wonks to an organization of partisan hacks. Lawson is manipulating numbers to give a misleading view of the state. Claiming that in-migration will make the state more conservative just ignores who the newcomers actually are. He’s making partisan opinions with little data back him up. Worse, he’s misinterpreting data when he uses it. He’s part of the shift from think tank to propaganda outlet.