The Civitas Partisan Index has been updated to show the political balance of power in North Carolina as revealed in the 2012 elections. While it does not predict elections, the CPI reveals which counties lean Republican or Democratic, plus illuminating larger trends.
Modeled after the Cook Partisan Voting Index that was developed for congressional districts, the Civitas Partisan Index (CPI) compares votes cast in each N.C. legislative district to votes cast in the state as a whole. The end result is a letter (D or R) followed by a number, indicating the extent to which each district leans one way or the other. For example, a district whose voters allotted 5 more percentage points to the Democratic candidates compared to the state average receives an index score of D+5.
For example, House District 29 is D+34. No Republican ran against incumbent Rep. Larry D. Hall, a Democrat, in 2012.
The CPI shows that in 2012 House District 2 was dead even. In the election, Rep. W.A. “Winkie” Wilkins, the Democratic incumbent, received more than 56.7 percent of the vote. Citing health concerns, he recently announced he would not seek re-election.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Gene McLaurin has said he plans to run for re-election in District 25. The CPI lists the district as R+3.
In using the CPI, it’s important to remember that in elections incumbency, the candidates’ traits and experience, the campaigns, fundraising and current political issues can play powerful roles.
The CPI is based on voter data from presidential election year results for governor and other council of state offices, i.e. Lieutenant Governor, Commissioner of Agriculture, Commissioner of Insurance, Commissioner of Labor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Superintendent of Public Instruction, State Treasurer and State Auditor. Although President and U.S. Senate election results may also be available, we believe that state-level races give a more accurate picture of how voters will vote in a state legislative race than do national races.
In 2012 the newly drawn legislative districts were applied to the 2012 vote for Governor and all Council of State races except the Attorney General’s race, which was uncontested. Though we couldn’t compare individual districts in this CPI with the last one, because of redistricting, we were able to compare average voting patterns from 2008. While it is true that historically in Council of State races North Carolinians tend to vote for Democratic candidates, in the 2012 CPI we see a possible shift in that voting pattern. In the 2008 election, the average Council of State vote (looking at only votes for Democratic or Republican candidates) was 53.4 percent Democratic and 46.6 percent Republican statewide; in the 2012 model, the average vote statewide was nearly even: 50.6 percent Democratic to 49.4 percent Republican.
In early 2008, the Civitas Institute premiered the North Carolina Partisan Index using data from the 2004 General Election.
In the 2008 CPI, of the 60 contested legislative seats, all but 10 seats went to the dominant party as indicated by the CPI. (Three seats had a neutral CPI). Among the 10 districts that were not in line with the CPI score, eight were in the range of R+3 to D+3, and most involved races with multi-term incumbents, well-known challengers, or significant spending differences between the candidates. When the value of incumbency is taken into account, the outcome of all but one state House race was correctly predicted by the CPI model.
Compared to the 2004 CPI model, the 2008 CPI showed a greater concentration of Democratic-leaning voters in the urban population centers. While voters in most of the state were somewhat more likely to vote for Republican statewide candidates in 2008 compared to 2004, voters in much of Buncombe, Cumberland, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg, and Wake counties favored Democratic candidates more heavily. In fact, 19 of the 21 state House districts that voted significantly more Democratic in 2008 compared to 2004 – districts whose CPI moved more than 3 points Democratic – were in those seven most populous North Carolina counties.
In 2010 a small adjustment was made to the 2008 House CPI after the state legislature passed an act (House Bill 1621) to realign districts in Pender and New Hanover counties in order to comply with an order of the North Carolina Supreme Court, in Bartlett v. Strickland. The voter data remained the same – only the district lines were changed. The changes were limited to House districts 16 and 18 and did little to impact the CPI data. House District 16 showed a decrease from R+9 to R+8 while House District 18 remained at D+12.
In 2010, Republicans became the majority in both the House and Senate in part by winning in 17 districts where the CPI indicated a majority of voters prefer Republicans but at the time the seat was held by a Democrat. In addition, three more districts were won by Republicans that held a neutral value. The seven districts won by the Republican candidates in 2010 that were not in line with the CPI score ranged from D+1 to D+4.
The CPI is not a predictor of future legislative contest outcomes, but it does give a glimpse of the voting tendencies within a district and is a way to identify districts that swing, lean, or firmly trend towards one political party or the other. Many Council of State seats have been unevenly contested in the past, making it difficult to predict results “down ticket” looking at raw numbers alone. By looking only at deviations from the state average, the Civitas model is able to mitigate the effects of incumbency and uneven contests. The CPI model also adjusts for outliers due to the popularity of a specific candidate in a specific area (for example, the governor’s popularity in his or her home county). Other data assumptions are also applied.
We invite you to check out your own legislative districts on the CPI. You’ll get valuable insights on this year’s campaigns and elections.