Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Making Sense of Redistricting

I'm working on a cold beer at the Westville Pub (Wedge IPA if you're interested) while waiting for new tires to get put on my car.  While I've been here, I've gotten a call from a smart reporter from the Citizen-Times who is (like I am) trying to make sense of the new Census numbers and what they mean for redistricting--particularly in North Carolina.  Not a bad way for a politics and beer geek to spend a rainy day.  I'll hopefully have something more intelligent to say soon, but in the meantime, here are a few random notes about, or inspired by redistricting and the new Census :
  • North Carolina population increased by over 18% since 2000.  That's the largest increase of any southern state (unless you consider Texas the South.  And let's be honest--no state that considers beef to be bar-b-que can be the South).
  • We're now the 10th biggest state in the country (up from the 11th).  Despite this gain, we don't pick up any congressional seats.  
  • Most of the pick-ups were in the sunbelt.  In the traditional South, South Carolina and Georgia picked up seats.  In the questionable South, Texas and Florida picked up seats as well.
  • Despite this increase in population, North Carolina is unlikely to make any move to increase the General Assembly's capacity to govern.  I'll have more on this soon.
  • Although we're not picking up seats in NC, the General Assembly can still redraw district lines.  I don't expect this to have too much influence on the 11th Congressional District (I don't see how it could look substantially different), but it could on districts throughout the rest of the state.  It will probably have the greatest impact on state legislative seats.
  • Mike McDonald at George Mason has a nice set of resources on redistricting here.
  • As this Census suggests, the country's population keeps climbing, but despite this >200% increase in population since the early 1900s, we've held at 435 seats in Congress for over a century.  See this book for a case that we should increase the size of the House.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Few Quick Links

  • The battle for the 2012 Presidential election calendar has begun.  Check out the always interesting Frontloading blog for more.
  • Nice article by Rob Christensen about the talk about independent redistricting commissions,  Turns out the Republicans supported it when the Democrats were in charge.  Now that the Republicans are taking over, guess who thinks they are a great idea?
  • The Tuckreader reports on an NC Policy watch piece showing that the poorest counties are the ones investing the most money in the lottery. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Just in time for The Holidays (2 years ago)

If you are interested in North Carolina politics and you don't have it already, I hope you'll check out our edited book on NC politics, which came out a couple of years ago.  If you can get past the stuff Gibbs and I wrote, then there are some really terrific chapters in this book covering all of the major parts of North Carolina politics.  The book really is a who's who of Political Scientists who cover the state so I hope you'll pick up a copy.

You might also want to check out Rob Christensen's excellent historical treatment of the same subject.  Rob's the preeminent journalist covering Tar Heel politics and after reading this book, you'll see why.

I think the two books complement each other quite nicely. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Moving Towards Purple, Again

I wrote before on the decline of Democrats on County Commissions in NC here and here.  The story there was that all of the focus on the national level has missed the real story in North Carolina: that North Carolina is a divided state that has been moving towards purple for a while.  It therefore shouldn't be surprising when Obama wins the state, but the Republicans keep a number of important seats in Congress.  I have been wanting to simulate this analysis with the General Assembly for a while, but state legislative historical data are surprisingly hard to come by.  Fortunately, Jeff Stonecash at Syracuse was kind enough to send me his data from 1901-2008.  I cleaned it up in a few places, added the last few elections and here's the result:

The bumpy lines are the actual percent Democrat in the state Senate and House.  The smoothed lines with the long title (sorry--I meant to change it, but didn't have time) represent a fancy way to smooth the data so it's easier to see the trend.  This is interesting in isolation, but it's even more interesting when we compare it to other states around us.  Consider South Carolina:

How's that for a nosedive?  I think the Palmetto state left purple behind a while ago.  Looks pretty red to me.  Also, for historical comparison, look how strongly Democratic it was until the 1960s--we're talking 100% Democratic. 

Most of the South looks similar, but check out this weird outlier: West Virginia:

Somehow the Democrats have gained ground in WV.  I know WV isn't really the South, but I still find this surprising. My friend and colleague Roger suggested that it has to do with the lack of race being an issue in WV, or perhaps with the industrial (instead of agricultural) base of the state's economy.  Gibbs wondered about the influence of the Byrd machine.  I'm not sure the reason, but I sure find it interesting.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Looking Forward to 2012

Sure it's too early to be looking forward to 2012 and sure we have a lot of actual, you know, policy to be talking about, but the folks at PPP have recently completed two interesting polls in North Carolina that I'd like to speculate about. Of course this makes me part of the problem of highlighting horse-race coverage at the expense of policy, but what the hell?

First, PPP polled GOP voters in North Carolina about who they plan to vote for in 2012.  I graphed the results below:

My guess is that every Democrat who's reading this blog is licking their lips at the prospect of a Palin candidacy and, at least early on, Republican voters might be up to the challenge.  I don't know about you, but I'll be watching Sarah Palin's Alaska with a slightly different eye now.

PPP also polled general election voters (without a partisanship screen) and found tested a few match-ups:
- Obama vs. Romney (tied)
- Obama vs. Huckabee (Huackabee up, but barely within the margin of error)
- Obama vs. Palin (Obama up)
- Obama vs. Gingrich (tied)

Perhaps more interesting, PPP also reports their results in bivariate form so we can see whether how many Obama voters are planning to defect to the Republican party and how many McCain voters are planning to defect to the Democrats. If we see of Obama voters planning to defect, then that would be a terrifically bad sign for the incumbent President.  Fortunately for Obama, however, that is not what the results suggest.  There are just as many McCain voters are planning to vote for Obama as there are Obama voters who are planning to vote for McCain. Simply put: Obama is not losing any ground in the Tar Heel state (at least thus far).

Of course, a lot can (and will) happen in the next months and years.  And a good deal of it will likely be bad for the incumbent

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Another Way to Look at the 2010 Election Outcomes

Most of the pundit attention about the last election has focused on the changes in the partisan distribution in Congress and the state legislatures.  This, of course, makes sense.  Party identification is the single-most important variable in American politics.  If you want me to predict how a legislator votes and you can only give me one piece of information about that person, it would be party ID.

Most important variable doesn't mean the only important one, however.  A large literature in both American and comparative politics shows that male a female legislators act differently.  Women introduce different kinds of legislation, vote differently, and even relate to their constituents differently. Further, when there are more women in office, women voters tend to feel more efficacious towards government.

With this in mind, I called the folks at the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics to see if they had updated their data on the number of female legislators to reflect last month's election returns.  Although they hadn't gotten it all on their web site, they had collected it and were nice enough to share it with me and I graphed the results below.

As you can see, female representation dipped a bit in 2011, both in NC and nationally.  Although I don't know for sure, I assume this is because female legislators are more likely to be Democrats and this was, as everyone including my basset hounds knows, a bad year for Democrats.

Two parts of this trend worry me.  (1) We weren't exactly knocking the top out before.  We were hovering around 25% representation for a group that makes up half the population.  Now we're decreasing.  That's not good.  (2) As I discussed above, men and women  act differently when in office.  A dip in the number of women in office suggests that we might see a small dip in bills of interest to women.  (3) State legislatures are like the AA ball of national politics.  Some people stay in AA forever, but almost everyone in the majors played in AA at some point.  State legislatures help train people for national politics, but if we don't have as many women in the farm system, very soon we won't have as many in the majors.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

County Commission Article in the N&O

Today's N&O includes an op-ed by Gibbs and me based on the county commission data discussed here last week

Monday, December 6, 2010

Voter ID Laws in North Carolina?

The Raleigh News and Observer reports that the Republicans are planning to introduce a bill to require photo ID before voting.  The Republicans are arguing that this will reduce voter fraud and increase faith in the system.  The Democrats will likely argue that this will reduce voter turnout--particularly among less educated and minority populations.  So--what does the empirical evidence suggest about this debate?

There is very little evidence of voter fraud.  As the N&O article points out, there were 18 documented cases of double-voting in NC in 2008 and I've seen similarly small numbers reported in Georgia.  The NY Times reports very small incidents of voter fraud from a multiple-state study (see also here).  I have not seen any reputable study that documents widespread voter fraud in the last 20 years (see, in particular, this book).  Unless this research is missing something, it doesn't appear that voter fraud is a widespread problem.

There is some (very limited and contested) evidence that voter ID laws suppress turnout. Vercellotti and Anderson document a small decrease in turnout when voter ID laws are put into place.  In perhaps the most sophisticated study to date, researchers from Cal-Tech (can you say Baysian multi-level analysis?  Me neither) investigate the range of potential restrictions* and come to a similar conclusion: voter ID laws result in a small decrease in voter turnout.  These findings are not uniform, however.  A team of researchers from the University of Delaware found no effect of voter ID laws on turnout and Columbia's Robert Erikson and his colleague replicate this small (~2 point) effect, but note that it is "statistically inconclusive" and that "the data that have been analyzed to date do not allow a conclusive test."  Sometimes science is frustrating. 

There is some (very limited and contested) evidence that voter ID laws suppress turnout among people with lower socio-economic statusMinorities and the elderly (two groups who traditionally vote Democratic) are the least likely to have DMV issued photo IDs.  From this, you would expect that these groups would be negatively influenced by photo ID laws.  And some studies have documented a larger turnout decline among minority and less educated voters, but others remain more skeptical.  The Cal-Tech group does not find that minorities are any more disadvantaged than other groups, but they do find that lower income folks and the elderly are comparatively more disadvanaged by voter ID laws. Again--a mixed bag of findings.

There is little evidence that voter ID laws increase trust in the electoral system.  Harvard's Steven Ansolabehere (say that three times fast) finds that there is no relationship between the frequency of electoral fraud and whether someone votes.  He also finds that "voters living in states with stricter identification laws did not report higher levels of confidence or higher rates of voting than those living in states with relatively weak identification rules." In other words, if we pass this law in NC, it probably won't give people more faith in the system or increase voter turnout.

Unfortunately the science here doesn't tell us unequivocally that voter ID laws are a good or bad thing.  I think if anything, the evidence suggests that we should be skeptical of both sides.  When Republicans say that fraud is rampant or that voter ID laws will increase trust in the system, be skeptical.  Likewise, when Democrats say that voter ID laws will depress turnout in large and meaningful ways and that turnout will go down particularly strongly among low SES voters, be skeptical. 

*Here are the possible rules, according to Alvarez and colleagues:
- Voter must state his/her name
- Voter must sign his/her name in a poll book
- Voter must sign his/her name in a poll book and it must match a signature on file
- Voter is requested to present proof of ID or voter registration card
- Voter must present proof of ID or voter registration card
- Voter must present proof of ID and his/her signature must match the signature
on the ID provided
- Voter is requested to present photo ID
- Voter is required to present photo ID.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Feeding our Growing Appetite for Apps

This holiday season millions of shoppers downloaded apps to stay at the top of their game on Black Friday. 2010 saw a dramatic increase in the role of cell phones as consumers used them to find the latest deals, scan bar codes to compare prices and products, and make purchases.  Thrifty shoppers were standing in line with product in one store while trying to get a better deal online from the store’s competitor.  At most major chains, just walking in the door activated a text message with special discounts and stores instantly added rewards to your account for visiting the store even if you didn’t make a purchase.

Apps are not just for holiday shoppers, they are for citizen consumers as well.  The explosion of users and uses for cell phones will soon be coming to a government near you.  With apps from the federal government <> , busy holiday shoppers can verify product safety before purchasing, pass time waiting in line by monitoring the status of their federal job application or touring the Library of Congress, then check the air quality before heading outside.

In Arkansas , holiday hunters can use Game Check for real-time game tagging or pay their property taxes without having to go to town. Government Technology reports that after only five months, the suite of mobile apps has become one of the Arkansas website’s most popular features.  Sportswomen in California can use Department of Fish and Game apps to locate nearby fishing spots or the closest place to buy a fishing license, while car buyers can use iSmog  to be sure the car they are purchasing will meet state standards.

City and county governments are tailoring apps to visitor and resident experiences as well.  Some are creating their own apps and many are using apps by other developers.  The Salem, MA Office of Tourism and Cultural Affairs <>  created its own Haunted Happenings - 2010 travel and event guide for brave Halloween visitors.  Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation in an effort to encourage use of public transit,  City-Go-Round </> provides real-time arrivals to waiting riders, but only if the transit service makes the data available.  Want more of a two-way conversation?  Now you can give feedback as well as get information.  Ten cities across the country are piloting and participating in development of YouTown, a relationship and communication app designed specifically for local governments.

So how are we doing in North Carolina?  It looks like local governments are leading the way in the Tar Heel state.  On City-Go-Round the site recognizes the high level of participation of transit authorities in the Triangle area.  MyCharlotte is widely viewed as a top-notch services and information product, and the app will soon be adding an avatar  and personal help-desk to guide residents and visitors. The Center for Digital Government and Government Technology just unveiled the 2010 list of digital cities , and I found a North Carolina city in the top ten for three categories.  Charlotte was number four in the nation for cities of 250,000+ population.  Winston-Salem showed up at number five on the mid-sized cities, and High Point was number five for smaller cities.  Here’s hoping for a top ten North Carolina City in the 30-75,000 category for 2011.

*Despite what the signature line says at the bottom, this post was written by Anne Cortes, Graduate Assistant at the Public Policy Institute at WCU  

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Televised Attack Advertising on the Rise

It seems like every election people complain that attack advertising is increasing.  I'm always skeptical of these claims. After all, in 1964 we saw about the nastiest ad imaginable

So what's the answer?  Fortunately, the folks at the Wesleyan Media Project can help us answer this question--at least from 2000-2010.  They combined their 2010 data with previous data from the Wisconsin Advertising Project and compare the frequency of televised attack ads to promote ads to contrast ads.  Contrast ads "mention both a favored candidate and his or her opponent" while attack ads "mention only the candidate being attacked."  Promote ads just mention the candidate sponsoring the ad.

They conclude that "the 2010 House and Senate advertising is the most negative in the past decade." Further, although the Republicans sponsor slightly more attack ads than the Democrats, attack ads are on the rise in both parties.  Below, I've graphed the Wesleyan/Wisconsin data and separated it out by party.  The message here is pretty clear.

Here are the data for the Democratic sponsored ads:

And the Republicans:

Brace yourself for more negativity in 2012.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Couple of quick links

Despite the fact that they quote me, both of these articles are worth checking out:
  • Article by John Boyle in the AC-T about the most recent iteration of Charles Taylor's annual fundraiser:
  • Good analysis of the rise of Heath Shuler by Quintin Ellison in the Smoky Mountain News:

New Senate Leadership in North Carolina

Now that the election is over (or, at least mostly over) it's a good time to examine how the political landscape is likely to shift.  A good place to begin is in the North Carolina Senate where we will soon have a Republican controlled legislature with Republican-controlled leadership.  So--how different will this leadership be? 

Thanks to the hard work of Phillip Ardoin at Appalachian State University, we can get a good sense of how liberal or conservative various members of the state legislature are.  Below, I've plotted the 2007 NC Senate by their "Nominate scores."  Phillip has borrowed this concept from work done at the Congressional level and, using a bunch of fancy statistics, estimates the ideology of every NC Senator based on their voting record on non-unanimous votes during that session.  He's got a terrific explanation here, but all you really need to know to understand this graph is that a lower Nominate score means a more liberal senator, a score of 0 indicates a moderate voting pattern and a higher scores means that senator has generally voted in a more conservative direction.  The higher peaks in this graph mean that there are more legislators in that particular range and you can see that in 2007*, we had far more liberal than conservative legislators.  If you're curious, the mean score was -.27.

That is interesting (well, at least to me) by itself, but perhaps even more interesting is the relative position of the two names on the chart.  As most readers know, Marc Basnight is the outgoing President Pro-Tempore of the Senate and Phil Berger is the incoming leader.  According to their Nominate scores, Basnight was the 12th most liberal Senator in 2007 with a score of -.785.  Berger, on the other hand was the 4th most conservative with a score of .688. 

The bottom line here is that we will not not seeing a more moderate leadership in the next legislative session and if anything, the leadership will be slightly more ideologically extreme than it was before.

*Obviously some things might have changed since 2007, but compiling these votes and computing the Nominate scores is a tremendous amount of work, so Ardoin understandably doesn't have newer scores up yet.   When he does, however, we'll be sure to link to them here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

More on the 11th Congressional District

As we noted before, there's been a lot written lately about the 11th Congressional District and why it went for Shuler.  I think Shuler's victory isn't too surprising when you consider the nature of his district. 

Despite the influence of Asheville, the 11th Congressional District is not overwhelmingly Democratic--at least compared to the rest of the state.  As you can see below, Shuler's district has the 9th highest percentage of registered Democrats in the state.  Given this, I doubt a liberal Democrat would do very well.

If we don't have that many Democrats, then why did Shuler do so well?  I believe the answer may lie in the independents.  We have the second most independents of any district in the state (see below).  If we assume that independents are moderates, then a candidate like Shuler should do fairly well among the independent vote.

So what else stands out about the 11th Congressional District?  The obvious answer is race.  The 11th is the whitest district in the state--over 90% of registered voters in NC-11 are white.

A lot of things could eventually lead to a Shuler defeat, but the demographics of this district look fairly well matched to Shuler winning for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What do the results of the midterms mean for Obama's chances in 2012?

What do the results of the midterms mean for Obama's chances in 2012? According to Larry Sabato and Alan Abramowitz: not much. In particular, they find that "there is no statistical relationship between a midterm result and the outcome of the next presidential election." In other words, we don't know any more about Obama's chances in 2012 now than we did before the election. For more, read their analysis here (Warning: people who do not understand sarcasm may get the wrong impression if they read this quickly).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Brief update

The Asheville Citizen-Times were kind enough to print a slightly extended version of this post  late last week.  You can find it here

The Decline of Democrats in NC County Commissions

A lot was written after 2008 about why North Carolina went blue.  This election, national journalists have already focused on the Heath Shuler race as an example of how North Carolina is more Democratic than other states.  The story that has been virtually ignored, however, is what's happening at the local level.

Thanks to the folks at the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners we can track the proportion of Commissioners who are Democrats from 1974-present.  I've plotted the results below and he evidence here is fairly dramatic (and fairly encouraging if you're a Republican).  The blue line is the actual proportion of seats held by Democrats per year.  The red line is just a trend line to make it easier to interpret.  If you find that one confusing, just ignore it.

Democrats are losing on average about 1 percentage point of the commission seats per year. Democrats held 90% of commission seats in 1978 and now the number hovers barely above 50%.  This year the Democratic share of Commission seats dropped by about 10 percentage points.  If this trend continues, we should see the Republicans holding onto the majority of the County Commission seats very soon.

We'll have more to say about this story in the next few days, but suffice it to say, I think these trends tell us more about North Carolina than the elections at upper-levels that are more influenced by national trends and individual personalities.  The conventional wisdom is that North Carolina has moved from light red to purple.  I think these data suggest that the story may be the opposite: we're becoming redder by the year.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Shuler vs. Miller Search Terms

I recently came across a reference to Google Trends, a tool that I didn't know existed. Essentially, it calculates the number of people who searched for any given term.

I am wondering if this might hold some promise as an alternative way to understand election forecasting.  Obviously there would be exceptions--if someone were involved in a scandal for example--but I wonder if in normal circumstances, this might give us a clue about public interest in a candidate.  Here's a quick graph of Heath Shuler (in blue) vs. Jeff Miller (in red).  They both got a spike close to the election, but Shuler's is clearly much, much bigger.  This tool might also help us understand when the public gets interested in elections.

Data from the elections are still drifting in and I'm trying to make sense of it all.  Expect some more election wrap-up postings in the next week.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Minority Leader Shuler?

As anyone who has been even remotely conscious the last few weeks knows, the Democrats recently lost control of the House, making Heath Shuler's quest to become Speaker impossible (as if it was not before).  Shuler, who appears to be learning how to stay in the news, now says he might run against Nancy Pelosi for Minority Leader of the House.

So how likely is it that Shuler will be elected to this position? About as likely as it is that Mark Sanford was really hiking the Appalachian trail.  As we noted before, Shuler is still very green and leadership positions generally go to people who have earned their stripes in Washington.  Josh Purdy, one of our fine GAs in the Public Policy Institute looked up every Minority Leader beginning in 1899 and calculated how long they were in Congress before becoming Minority Leader.

As you can see above, Shuler wouldn't be the greenest member to be elected Minority Leader, but he'd be darn close.  The average Minority Leader spent 20 years in Congress before ascending to the leadership.  Only James Richardson, a guy who died the year World War I began, was in Congress fewer years before becoming minority leader.

If this is so improbable, then why is he going public saying that he's going to run against Pelosi?  My guess is that Shuler is smart enough to know that he has no chance to win, but he's also smart enough to know that the only way for a junior member of Congress to gain power is to "go outside," and use the media to raise his profile.  In the past few days speculation about whether Shuler might challenge Pelosi for Minority Leader has been covered in the NY Times, Roll Call, the Huffington Post, and a bunch of other outlets.  That's a lot of coverage for most members of Congress--particularly a junior member of a minority party from a relatively small district in the mountains of North Carolina.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Reflections on the "Far-left leanings" of the 11th Congressional District

I was recently quoted in the Asheville Citizen-Times prognosticating about Heath Shuler's probable stature in the next Congress  Here's what I said: “He's probably in a better position than a lot of Democrats are because he is a conservative Democrat and made no bones about it,” Cooper said. “He could come out smelling pretty nice because he's the kind of Democrat who could maintain some power, even in the minority party."

Putting aside my odd phrasing of "smelling pretty nice," (what was I thinking?), I still agree with this statement and as he always does, John Boyle quoted me accurately and fairly. 

I was very pleased to see that an interested citizen took the time to write the AC-T about my statement.  In a letter to the editor, the reader stated that "Given the far-left leanings of House District 11, Rep. Shuler will move to the left joining the Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi wing, not necessarily because he is a “true believer” but because that is what will be required to fend off challenges from the far-left. Should Rep. Shuler fail to move left, Councilman Cecil Bothwell and others will be waiting in the wings for the 2012 primaries."

I am always pleased when people take the time to write letters to the editor (so much so that Gibbs, our friend Moshe and I published a paper about letters to the editor in NC newspapers)* and I appreciate Mr. Arnold's perspective on his district.  But, as the readers of this blog know, I generally want to solve disagreements like this with data and the most obvious way to test the reader's claim vs. mine is to examine the voter registration statistics in the 11th Congressional District.  If there are a lot more Democrats in our district than their are in the state as a whole, then that would be a good sign that the reader's right and I'm wrong.  If we find the opposite, well, we'll see....

According to the NC Board of Elections, there indeed are more Democrats than Republicans in our district (40% Democrat vs. 33% Republican w/ 28% Independent or Libertarian).  When comparing this to the statewide numbers, however, we see that our district is actually less Democratic than the state as a whole.  In North Carolina, 45% of voters are Democrats, 32% are Republicans and 24% are Independents or Libertarians).  Obviously it is possible that more of our independents are liberal than they are in the rest of the state, but I have never seen any evidence suggesting this is true (if anything, the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction).  Of course, partisanship and ideology don't always map onto each other so it's also possible that people in our district are more liberal despite not being more Democratic.  Again, however, my read of available data on this suggests that this is not true.

So, why did the reader (who is politically engaged enough to write a letter to the editor and reasonable enough to write a well-written, well-argued letter) believe this?  My guess--because he lives in Asheville.  As we've found in many surveys, Asheville is not like the rest of the district.  Asheville is indeed more liberal than many places in North Carolina and only 27% of Buncombe County voters are Republicans.  It's very easy to assume that Asheville=the 11th Congressional District, but the reality is that our district is a fairly large one and includes many counties that are far more Republican and conservative than Buncombe County.

The balance of the evidence suggest that while Asheville may be "the San Francisco of the South," the rest of the 11th Congressional District would be pretty out-of-place in the Bay Area. 

* I really do mean this.  Compare the quality of the discourse in letters to the editor to Internet comments on the same story.  Letters to the editor are almost always better written, better argued and better informed than their counterparts on the Internet (except for the commenters on this blog, of course).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Is Voter Turnout in NC Lower or Higher than the National Average? Yes

There was a lot of pre-election speculation about voter turnout--in North Carolina and nationwide.  We're finally starting to get some reliable data and it appears that turnout was up from 2006--the last midterm election.  In North Carolina, the proportion of eligible voters* who turned out was up about 8% (to 39.7%) compared to a voting eligible turnout rate of 41.5 nationally (up a bit from 40.4%).

Because I prefer pictures to words, I've pasted a graph of midterm turnout from 1982-2010.  The blue line represents turnout in NC (an odd choice given the recent legislative turnover) and the red-line is U.S. turnout.

In addition to the large spike from 2006 to 2010, there are a couple of other interesting stories here.  The most obvious one is how spikey the NC line is, compared to the comparatively flatter line nationally.  Clearly there's something that makes turnout in North Carolina vary considerably from one midterm to the next.  My guess is that it's higher in years with US Senate elections, but I have not checked it to be sure.

So what happens in Presidential election years?  Below I've made a similar graph, but this one just includes years in which we're voting for President.  Here we see a slightly different story. Turnout in the Tar Heel state was consistently below the US averages for a long time, but has recently shot above the US average.  I would say this is simply an Obama effect, but the rise in NC actually began in 2000 (when Barack Obama was a state senator in Illinois' 11th district).  We know that competitiveness breeds turnout so my guess is that increased turnout in North Carolina in Presidential election years has to do with the increasing competitiveness of Presidential elections in North Carolina. 

So if you're in a debate with your friends about whether North Carolinians are more likely to turnout than people from other states (likely scenario, I know), you can safely take either side of the argument.  If you're taking about Presidential elections, the answer is yes (or at least it was in 2008).  If you're talking about the midterms, the answer is no.

As more data become available, I expect to post more (including some analysis of what happened in the local elections).

*You may note that these numbers look a little higher than those reported elsewhere.  That's because they measure the proportion of the electorate who did vote divided by the proportion who could vote (the eligible electorate).  The traditional way to measure this was with the voting age population as the denominator.  The problem is that there are lots and lots of people (96,404 in North Carolina) who are above the age of of 18, but who are ineligible to vote (because they are on probation, on parole, in prison, or are not citizens).  Including them in voter turnout numbers makes turnout appear lower than it actually is.  If this is confusing, fret not, I'll probably write a more extended post on this soon (with graphs, of course).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Youth Voter Turnout Probably Went Down a Bit

Last week I speculated a little about what youth voter turnout might look like in 2010. Now that the election is over, a few reports are starting to trickle in so we can now get a better read on what actually happened.

After a night of crunching exit poll data, the folks at the CIRCLE foundation found that, "An estimated 20.4 percent of young Americans under the age of 30 voted in Tuesday’s midterm elections, compared to 23.5 percent in the last midterm election (2006)."  There are a few different ways to slice this data and they find that 11% of the electorate in this election were between 18 and 29, which is about 1% lower than it was in 2006.

Looks like the increase in the youth vote that we saw in 2008 did not translate into bigger youth turnout in 2010.  I'm searching for North Carolina data, but can't yet find anything out there that breaks it down by state.  Stay tuned for more analysis of the election over the next week.

Long night becoming clearer

Looks like (as we expected) the Republicans will take over the House and the Democrats will maintain control of the Senate.  Shuler and Burr are staying.  Still waiting to see on the Governor's races.  It's gotten comparatively less coverage, but for us North Carolinians, the fact that the Republicans will take over both houses of the NC legislature, is arguably, a bigger story. The turnover in the Jackson County Commissioners is also a huge story for those of us who reside in this County. 

Gibbs and I had a fun night on WRGC radio here in Sylva and I enjoyed responding to some terrific questions from various other WNC journalists.  I'll also be on My40 TV tomorrow morning  at 9:00 commenting on the midterms.  I expect to have some analysis of the election over the next few weeks, then we'll probably move to issues of policy and governance moving forward.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Speaker Shuler?

Evidently Heath Shuler is pondering a run for Speaker of the House. In some ways, this makes some sense electorally as it helps him distance himself from Pelosi ("I can't be pals with Pelosi--I am going to run against her!" This also helps explain why Bill Clinton came to stump for a guy who is virtually assured victory tomorrow.

Still, this doesn't seem very likely. First, it's difficult to be Speaker if your party is not in control of the House. Even if the Democrats pull of a miracle and keep control of the House, I can't help but think that this is a little premature. After all, Shuler's only completed his second term. When Bill Graham at the Tuck Reader asked me about this, I looked up the tenure of a couple of recent speakers and concluded that, while not impossible, it would be unprecedented for such a green member of Congress to be speaker.

The next day I wondered if I had mislead the fine readers of Tuckreader.com. What if Speakers used to be much more green than they are now? What if Hastert, Gingrich, and Pelosi are outliers? To find out, Thomas Jones, one of our terrific Graduate Assistants at the PPI was kind enough to look up the number of years between being elected to Congress and being selected as Speaker for every Speaker since 1899. I have graphed the results below. I also plotted where Shuler would fall. The big red line represents the average time in office before becoming Speaker.

I usually get on my students and remind them to interpret graphs for the reader, but I think my basset hound can see what I'm trying to say here. Pelosi, Gingrich, and Hastert aren't abnormal (and if they are, it's because they were in Congress for less time) . If Heath Shuler somehow is elected as Speaker of the House, he would be *by far* the most junior member of Congress elected to Speaker in more than 110 years. I'll stick with my original assessment of whether we'll be saying Speaker Shuler anytime soon: it's not impossible, but it's darn close.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Shameful Self-Promotion

We didn't do much to publicize this blog in the first few weeks, so I almost feel like it's been been the equivalent of a restaurant having a "soft opening"--we're open for business, but it's been mostly our friends who are eating the pizza.  Nonetheless, a few other folks are starting to take notice and I'm pleased that we're beginning to get a little bit of coverage from this blog.

Our University PR Office put out this press release on the blog (thanks, Bill).  The Smoky Mountain News had a piece on early voting featuring some of our analysis.  The Tuck reader did a quick update on our election roundup here and also had a nice post on whether we might be saying "Speaker Shuler" anytime soon with a few quotes from me.  Gibbs has been quoted in the Citizen-Times more times than I can possibly link to lately and he'll be doing a radio appearance on WRGC on election night (I might be there, too).  I know there are a bunch of links I'm missing, but I need to find a Halloween costume so I'd better sign off for now.

Oh, and don't worry--I won't make a habit of doing posts like this.  I'm sure very few of you outside of my mother want to read a post promoting the blog you're already reading.

The Republicans Will Take Over the Majority of Governorships (probably)

How's that title for a hedge? Just as I did with the House and Senate Forecasts, I collected some of the major forecasts about Gubernatorial elections. Once again, these forecasts are one based on what Political Scientists call the "fundamentals"--factors like the state of the economy, the approval of the President, etc. There's not much candidates can do to influence these forecasts, which is why so many people are frustrated by them. The truth, however, is that despite taking very little about the individual candidates into account, they're pretty accurate.

Each line above is a forecast and the one marked average is..well...the average of the forecasts presented here. The big red line represents the number the Republicans need to reach to take the majority of the Governor's seats.

These forecasts clearly suggest that the Republicans are likely to gain the majority of Governorships, although not by a lot. So, given the nature of these forecasts, why did I hedge so much in my title? The answer: independents. The guy who I consider to be the Michael Jordan of Gubernatorial Scholars, Thad Beyle* recently shared some data with me showing that there are far more independents running for Governor in this election than anytime in recent memory. These independents may very well wreak havoc on election outcomes. If a few get elected, it also moves that big red line a bit. 

So--I expect the Republicans will win some governorships, but I would take these forecasts with a little more salt than I would the House or Senate forecasts.

*By that I mean that he's really, really good. Not that he has a gambling problem or that he invests in questionable basketball teams.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Youth Voter Turnout--Looking Back, Looking Forward

A friend of mine recently asked me the following: “Historically, younger voters (18-25?) have not bothered to vote, but they did participate in the Obama election.  Is that demographic planning on voting in this election?  Are they a block to reckon with, i.e. are politicians paying attention to them now?

I figured some other people might be interested in the answer so here goes:* 

According to the CIRCLE Foundation (the key resource on youth political engagement, turnout among young people was up 2% over 2004 and 9% over 4 years before (although they varied a ton by state). North Carolina is a particularly interesting case.  In 2006, we had the 41st highest youth voter turnout in the country, but we had a huge surge in this last election and had the 11th highest turnout (55% youth turnout) following the 2008 Presidential election. I can’t think of any other examples where a state has jumped that much in such a short period of time. 

On the one hand, the biggest predictor of whether you'll vote this time is whether you voted last time so simply getting young people to the polls should be a lot easier this time.  On the other hand, a lot of people think that this surge was an Obama surge and we'll go back to normal patterns in the midterm.  

So what signs do we have about this election?  Once again, we have two pieces of evidence to rely on to answer this question: polling and early voting.  The best polling data on this issue suggest that there’s a huge enthusiasm gap between young Democrats and Young Republicans.  Young Democrats are much less engaged in this election than they were in 2006, while Young Republicans are (not surprisingly) more engaged. Given that more young people are Democrats than Republicans, we might expect to see slightly lower youth turnout this time.  Here’s the money graph from the Pew report:

As for early voting, there is no evidence that the early voting population is any younger than it has been in previous years. In the 11th Congressional district, the average age of an early voter is 62.  Don’t tell my dad but this doesn’t sound too young to me. 

This last part of the question—whether young people are a block to reckon with—I’ll answer with a bit more informed opinion and fewer facts.  The bottom line is that I haven’t seen any evidence suggesting that politicians are more likely to target or listen to young people than they were prior to 2008.  A 2% increase in one election is great, but it's not exactly huge.  And we’re talking about 2% higher among a fairly small proportion of the electorate so the overall influence is not all that big.  You add to that that young voters are an inefficient group to reach (how many young people are actually registered in this district? How many have out of area cell phones?  How many answer the phone? How many have a good address on file with the board of elections?) and I don't think politicians will spend much more time and effort than they already do trying to reach young voters.

With that long of an answer, I doubt anyone will ask me any more questions.

*All of these data actually refer to people 18-29, which is the way most political scientists define “younger voters.”

The Democrats Will Hold Onto the Senate

Or at least that's what most Political Scientists think.  Just as I did with the House Races here , below I plot the predictions of a few different political science forecasts, with a couple of media forecasts thrown in for good measure. The big red line is the line the Republicans are shooting for--the number of seats that marks when the Republicans take over the Senate.

As you can see, no current Political Science forecasts (at least that I can find) predict a Republican takeover.  The average of all of these forecasts suggests that the Republicans will gain a little over 6 seats--enough to make the Republicans happy, but not enough to take over the chamber. The Abramowitz and Holbrook forecasts rely on fundamental conditions that are outside of the candidates' control--things like the state of the economy, the President's approval rating, etc.  The 538 forecast uses a combination of individual race factors, and bigger, "macro-level" factors.  The Sabato forecast relies on his estimation of how individual races will go. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

More on Early Voting in WNC

There is a bit of a debate between Michael McDonald, George Mason University Political Scientist (not the Doobie Brother) and Nate Silver, founder of 538.com about how to read early voting data. Essentially, McDonald argues that you've got to compare this year's early voting data to early voting data in previous years to understand what it means, while Silver finds some usefulness in comparing to registration data (as I've been doing). Some are also debating whether early voting in 2008 is a better comparison or whether it's better to compare to 2006 (the last midterm year).

My goal is not to weigh into this debate, but to understand what's going on in WNC so I figured I would give fair time to the other side of this data-debate and compare the 2010 early voting data to 2006 early voting data on the same day of that election cycle to see if we can learn anything new. Each bar below represents the proportion that the group in question makes up of the total early voting electorate. So--to interpret one of the bars--the Democrats represent about .4 of the total early voting turnout in 2010.

The figure above reinforces some of the lessons we've learned by comparing turnout to voter registration, but it does tell us something slightly different: namely, independents seem to be turning out in greater numbers time time than they did in 2006. We could not see this difference using the way I've been looking at it before. Democratic turnout in the 11th district does seem to be down a bit and the Republican turnout is holding pretty steady compared to 2006. Maybe in our district it's not an "enthusiasm gap" with Republicans being more excited and mobilized than Democrats, but rather an "independent enthusiasm gap"

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Early Voting in WNC Update III: Through Oct. 23rd

Before moving into the update of the partisanship information, a reporter this week asked me what the demographic profile of early voters looks like in the 11th Congressional District thus far. It appears that the early voters in the 11th Congressional District are overwhelmingly white (96%), older (average age=62) and fairly split in terms of gender (51% female). The age and race trends are similar to what we have seen in the state as a whole, but interestingly, women seem to be turning out in much larger numbers in WNC than they are in the rest of the state (or at least than they were in the first few days of early voting.

As for partisanship, it looks like Republicans are still turnout out a larger proportion of their voters than are Democrats. Interestingly, however, Democrats still have the raw numbers advantage as they have so many more registered voters in the district to begin with.

This picture is interesting, but the real fun stuff happens when comparing what's going on in different counties. The graph below shows the proportion of registered voters in a county who are Republicans on the X (horizontal) axis, and the proportion of early voters in the county who are Republicans on the Y (vertical) axis. The line is what statisticians call a "line of best fit"--essentially when a county falls above the line, the Republicans are doing better than you'd expect from the proportion of Republicans in the county and the counties that fall below the line are experiencing less Republican turnout than you'd expect. For example, Republicans are doing a good bit better in Polk, Henderson, and Cherokee Counties than you would expect from the percent of voters in the County who are registered Republicans. Similarly, they are underrepresented in Graham County and slightly underrepresented in Madison, Jackson and Haywood. Looks like Democrats are gaining in Clay, Transylvania and Macon as the difference this week is different than it was just a few days before. Those who are more statistically inclined may be interested to know that the R-squared in the graph below is .74— lower than the .82 reported just a few days before and even lower than the .88 from a few days before that. Essentially this means the % of early voters in a county who are Republicans is increasingly deviating from the % of registered voters in a county who are Republican.

So--have the turnout numbers risen dramatically in the last few days? Did Bill Clinton's appearance in Asheville mobilize the Democratic base? The answers: sort of and no. The graph below shows the cumulative turnout by day and I don't see any huge spike (Democratic or Republican) after the former President's visit. Hopefully he at least got to eat at 12 bones while he was here to make his trip worth it.

Here's the full report if you're interested in the specific numbers by county:


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Every Little Bit Counts

We've been talking about this blog for a while, but it took me being laid up with back surgery to get it online.  A couple of folks in the media including WRGC radio and the Tuck Reader have already taken notice so thanks to them.  I've also gotten some friendly calls from other media outlets in the region this week asking about the content--and mostly about the early voting data so thanks to them as well.  Please keep reading and we'll try to keep the content going. 

In the meantime, here's a musical interlude befitting the title of this post.

The Republicans Will Take Over the House

Or at least that's what most political scientists believe.  So how do they know so early?  Whereas journalists and pollsters  rely on last-minute polls and campaign events to read tea-leaves to predict the outcome of elections, Political Scientists believe they can predict the outcome of elections well in advance of the election and often without even knowing who the candidates are.  The bad news is that makes following the horse-race a lot less interesting.  The good news is that the track record of these forecasts is pretty good and less time following the horse race means more time that can be spent following the College football season.

There are lots of these forecasts out there, but one popular one, by Emory University Political Scientist Alan Abramowitz says you can predict the overall seat share in Midterm elections by knowing two things: (1) the result of the "generic ballot"*  in early September and (2) the President's approval in early September.  Other forecasts focus more heavily on the state of the economy, but most of the final predictions end up looking fairly similar.

Below I've plotted the predictions of various political science models, along with the forecasts of 538.com, a popular web site by uber-nerd Nate Silver that uses political science methods, but is not written by a political scientist.  I also put in a line that is the average of all of these forecasts.  As most of you know, the Democrats control the House and the Republicans need 39 seats to take it over.  All of the predictions but two show the Republicans moving past the margin number of 39 (yes, that's what the big, red line represents).

It's important to remember that all of these forecasts include lots of caveats and many of them even quantify the probability of error (which I completely ignore in this post). In other words, don't come after these folks if their predictions don't come true.  And if you do, please don't tell them that you read it here.

If you want to read more about these predictions, I encourage you to consult the most recent issue of PS: Political Science and Politics, a journal that dedicated a special issue to forecasting the 2010 midterms  They've made the whole thing available to the public, so browse away.

On a final note: I intend this blog to mostly address local and state issues since lots of impressive folks already post on national politics, and with with more authority and status than I do.  With that said, I can't resist weighing in a little on the national scene from time-to-time.  And with that cautionary note: I'll post tomorrow with similar predictions on the Gubernatorial and Senatorial elections. 

*  Here's the text of a traditional "generic ballot question" "We'd like to get your opinion about how you might vote in the House of Representatives election on November 2nd, 2010. If the House of Representatives election were held today, for whom would you most likely vote? [ASKED OF THOSE WHO HAVE ALREADY VOTED: For which candidate for the House of Representatives did you vote?]?"  The Democratic Candidate?  The Republican Candidate? Other

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Predicting NC Election Results

Sometimes predicting the future is pretty easy (Didn't everyone predict that Joan would keep the baby on the season final of Mad Men?); other times it's more difficult (did anyone think Alvin Green would be the Democratic Party's candidate for the South Carolina Senate seat?).  So how hard is it to predict the results in the major NC political battles?  Looks like the races in North Carolina contain some Joans and some Greenes.  Here's the linkup starting from the most certain to the least certain (excluding the House races that are virtual locks): 

Burr-Marshall: Richard Burr, our senior Senator was first elected in 2004 by beating my boss', boss' boss' boss' boss, 52-47.  After some tight early polling numbers, Burr looks to be almost a lock in November.  My favorite political site, 538.com gives Burr a 97% chance of being re-elected.  The Cook political report and Real Clear Politics list the race as "likely Republican" and the most recent average polling data predict a 51-35 result.  Finally, Political Scientist Tom Holbrook predicts that Marshall will garner a scant 42% of the vote. Barring major disaster, it looks like Burr will coast to victory in November. 

Shuler-Miller (NC-11): Heath Shuler, first elected in 2006 can't rest as easily as Richard Burr, but most indications suggest that Shuler is the favorite in this seat.  538.com gives Shuler a 75% chance of holding onto his seat.  The Cook Political Report rates the race as one that "Leans Democratic," although Real Clear Politics marks it a "Toss-up."  As we draw closer to election day, undecided voters tend to fall towards the incumbent, and the most recent polling data look good for the former quarterback.  The race is certainly tighter than the one at the top of the ticket, but Shuler remains the favorite.

McIntyre-Pantano (NC-7): Mike McIntyre has represented the 7th District (Wilmington) since 1996, but he's facing a very tough fight at the hands of  Ilarino Pantano.  Most forecasters are finding this one tough to predict.  538 gives the incumbent McIntyre a 55% chance of victory while the Cook Political Report says it "Leans Democrat" and Real Clear Politics calls it a toss-up.

Kissell-Johnson (NC-8): Perhaps even tighter is the race for the 8th District that stretches from parts of Charlotte to Fayetteville.  Here, the incumbent Larry Kissell is facing  tough fight to keep his seat.  Cook calls this one a "toss-up" Real Clear Politics says it "Leans Republican" and 538 gives the Republican challenger a 54% chance of victory.

So what about the state legislature?  Because there is very little reliable polling data at the state legislative level,  there are almost no credible seat-by-seat forecasts.  One person, however, has begun to forecast overall partisan control at the state legislative level, using a complicated formula that includes 30 variables ranging from campaign spending to previous voting patterns in the district to the popularity of the Governor.  Unfortunately, his forecast in North Carolina is the statistical equivalent of throwing up his hands--he gives the Democrats a 47% of maintaining control of the State House and a 50% chance of maintaining control of the state Senate. 

I'll follow-up soon by collecting forecasts at the national level.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cell Phones and Polling

is a lot of misinformation about cell phones and polling out there and the election season is only going to bring on more polls, so I thought it would be a good time to review some recent work on cell phones and polling.

Many people believe that pollsters cannot include cell phones in their polls. That’s simply not true. Many pollsters (and almost all of the good ones) include cell phones in their sample. Pollsters usually draw samples from what is called “random digit dialing.” Let’s take Sylva for example—many Sylva phone numbers begin with 586. A pollster then can call numbers at random beginning with 586. Cell phone numbers around here often begin with 399, 506, 507, or 508. There’s no reason a good poll can’t do the same thing with cell numbers that they do with land-line numbers—begin with a known prefix and then generate random numbers from there.

The problem with cell phones comes from people like my friend Eric. Eric lives in Sylva, but moved here from Tennessee. When he moved, he kept his Tennessee area code. A pollster who is trying to do a poll of Jackson County residents would not be able to include Eric. Similarly a person who leaves Jackson County may keep her phone number with a 399 prefix, and she might get a call for a survey meant for Jackson County residents.

So—how often does this happen? The Pew Center for the People and the Press recently released a report on this and found that 94% of cell phone users have a number that falls within the same Census region in which they live. 90% have cell phone numbers that match their current state of residence and only 60% have cell numbers that fall within their current county of residence. In other words, the smaller the geographic area you’re polling in, the bigger the problem you’ve got.

So what does this mean for people who want to make sense of polling data? First, make sure that the poll you’re reading about includes cell phones and not just land-lines. Polls that include only land-lines probably under-represent young people and Democrats. Second, the smaller the geographic unit, the more suspect you should be of the poll. As someone who’s conducted a few polls of local areas, I don’t mean to suggest that polls about small geographic areas are bad, but that a little more caution is probably warranted.

I’ll probably follow up with some more on polling soon.

Early Voting Update--data through Oct. 19th

I've updated the WNC early voting data through Oct. 19th.  As Led Zeppelin once said--"the song remains the same."  Republicans are doing slightly better than might be expected based on their share of registered voters, but the Democrats have slightly more votes in all. Check out this link for the full report (including county-level data) or read below for the highlights.

See below for the graph for the 11th Congessional District updated with the new votes

I also created a graph to simulate the one from a few days ago--so you can compare the % of early voters who are Republicans to the % of registered voters who are Republicans by County. Once again, in general, counties with more registered Republicans in the county are seeing higher turnout among Republicans thus far, but there are a few interesting deviations. Republican turnout is Henderson County continues to be better than we might have expected. The story isn't all good for Republicans, however, as they are not doing as well in Madison, Jackson, and Haywood Counties--and particularly in Graham. Those who are more statistically inclined may be interested to know that the R-squared in the graph below is .82—slightly lower than the .88 reported just a few days before.

Next I wanted to begin to graph turnout by day to see which days are the biggest days and if some days look better for one party than others. The graph below tracks the cumulative vote totals for each party by day for the entire 11th Congressional District. Clearly this week has seen a bit pick-up in early voting.

Please continue to check back as the turnout game gets more interesting over the next few weeks. I'm particularly interested to see if Clinton's appearance in Asheville gives the Democrats a temporary boost in Buncombe County on Friday and Saturday.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Early Voting in WNC as of October 18th

Many of us are curious about what's going to happen in the November elections. Unfortunately the only real data we have are polling data and indications about who's voting early (but hopefully not often). Nationally, there are a lot of good sites that calculate early voting numbers by state. Locally, however, there are no such resources. The NC Board of Elections has the individual level data available for download (down to the individual voter), but it takes some know-how and a considerable amount of time to download, analyze and make sense of these data.

To satisfy my own curiosity and to contribute to our knowledge of politics in WNC, every few days between now and the election, I plan to download and analyze early voting data for each county in the 11th Congressional District on this site. Although I also have data by age and race (and I’ll be happy to make those available), this analysis only shows the percent of early voters by Party Identification. It’s important to remember that this does not tell us who someone is voting for—A Republican may choose to for a Democrat and vice-versa—but it does give us some indication of who’s winning the mobilization game in Western North Carolina. The data below include data from October 17th.

In general, the data don’t show that either party has a large advantage this early, although it does look slightly better for Republicans than Democrats.

The figure above shows that Republicans are enjoying a slight advantage in early voting. Republicans make up a slightly larger percent of the early voters than they do of the registered voters in Western North Carolina. This is not terribly unusual for early voting. It is also not unusual to see that unaffiliated voters are less well-represented in early voting than they are in the electorate.

The following figure shows that in general, counties with more registered Republicans in the county are seeing higher turnout among Republicans thus far. The interesting cases are the ones way off the line. For example, Republicans are doing a good bit better in Henderson County than you would expect from the percent of voters in the County who are registered Republicans. Similarly, they are slightly underrepresented in Graham County. For those who are more statistically inclined, the R-squared for this figure is about .88.

If you'd like to see the exact numbers by county, please check out the brief report here http://tinyurl.com/earlyvotinginwnc


Welcome to the Blog for the Public Policy Institute at Western Carolina University.  We intend to use this as a platform to add to the policy debate in the Tarheel State. Most of our posts will try to connect findings in Political Science and Public Affairs to the real world of politics and policy in North Carolina.  Many of our posts will include original data analysis.  Enjoy and please let us know if you have any suggestions.