Monday, November 15, 2010

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.


  1. Is a straight line the best fit for that data? It looks like the data has some plateaus that imply, perhaps, a logrithmic curve?

    Also, isn't this data somewhat misleading in support of that last paragraph? Surely the democrats in 1974 are not the same as the democrats today, and this data is mainly illustrating the southern re-alignment that took place in the 80s and early 90s, followed by a plateau and a couple of spikes correlated to national elections.

    If conservative democrats at the local level are being replaced by less conservative democrats and conservative republicans, then even a shift to 50-50 balance would result in something most of the country would view as an enpurpling.

  2. Man, this is the kind of comment that warms my heart. As for your first point: perhaps. With that said, the R-squared is about .86 so the linear prediction is pretty good. More importantly, I didn't want to tech it up too much on this blog. I'll see if I can overlay a logarithmic curve later, however, in case you're interested.

    As to your substantive point: I think that what we're seeing here is the end of the southern realignment that's been trickling down to the local levels for a while. Of course the Democrats are not the same now as they were in 1974, but it doesn't change the fact that this is a pretty stark shift in partisanship.

    Thanks for the comment. Keep 'em coming.