By Michael Bitzer
In the article, the author traces Cooper’s time as a state representative until he currently serves as executive director of the state (Note to author: we do not call our state representatives “general assembly”, but rather our legislature is known as the general assembly, with representatives and senators that make up the bicameral body).
And while several of the state’s top political strategists weighed in on Cooper’s success and tried to define it, several important facets that might have helped explain, or at least address, the question ‘what’s so different about Roy Cooper were not mentioned? win in North Carolina? “
One such aspect is that, since 1980, North Carolina has had a rich history of voting for Republicans at the federal level and Democratic at the level of state offices. This dynamic is a pretty big reason when considering the Trump / Tillis / Cooper dynamic of the 2020 general election.
If you add the votes of federal candidates (that is, US presidential and senators) between 1984 and 2004 in the state, Republicans obtained 52.6 percent compared to 45.3 percent for Democrats. From 2008 to 2020, federal votes became 50.6 percent Republican and 47 percent Democratic.
However, when you look at the State Council offices during those same time periods, Democrats got 53.8 percent between 1984 and 2004 and Republicans 45.4 percent, while between 2008 and 2020, Democrats scored 50.9 versus Republicans 48.7.
This pattern of federal red versus state blue is well known in North Carolina. To get an excellent example of this bifurcated electorate, you only need to go back twenty years, to the general elections of 2000 and 2004, to witness Republican George W. Bush win the state presidential ballot and Democrat Mike Easley win the gubernatorial race.
In fact, in 2004, Bush and Easley won their races by twelve percentage points each.
Which brings me to another key aspect that could unravel the mystery of Cooper’s victory: the history of the split-voter state. Of course, in elections since 2008, North Carolina has become more ‘nationalized’ in its voting habits: that is, the way a voter casts a ballot on top of the ballot for president is likely to stay. with that party on the ballot.
In a preliminary analysis of the 2020 general election, Trump County’s percentage dynamics lines up almost perfectly with Republican Dan Forest’s county performance.
But while Trump won the state by 1.3 percentage points, Cooper won by 4.5 points, meaning there are still enough split-ticket voters in the state to continue the state’s rich tradition of a bipartisan voting pattern (granted, however, not close to the 2004 swing scale). Even with the nationalizing dynamics of state politics, there is still a viable group of swing voters who can tip the state toward one party over the other. And candidates, especially for state offices, must also be aware of those dynamics.
With a deeper dive into the general election data (especially the district-level statements, which I’m working on right now), we should be able to get more clues as to why the state continued its historic trend from Federal Red and State. Blue. especially when looking at where Cooper performed better than Biden. A blog post on that aspect will be published soon.
But for this piece of the Atlantic, the lack of research on a state’s politics is always notable when it comes to outsiders trying to get the lay of a land from 30,000 feet, without having a guide who really knows the landscape.
Bottom line: there are plenty of thoughtful and expert analysis to understand what is happening in a particular state. North Carolina is fortunate to have a wide variety of smart and dedicated people who can give their perspectives and thoughts on what makes this state work politically. The simple act of surfing the Internet or picking up the phone will likely result in discovering that what you think you have discovered, that “hidden secret,” is actually out in the open.
Hopefully, future journalists / outsiders would do well to call any of these folks, an email, even a DM via Twitter, to gain perspective on state politics and answer the questions they are trying to understand.
Or they could just jump out of a plane, without a parachute, and cause as much a stir as this article trying to explain the politics of the Old North State.