Whether or not we like math, the reality is it controls our life. At home, we have a budget with the final balance each month determined by subtracting our expenditures against our income. Likewise, businesses operate on a budget and typically those best managing their assets are the ones that succeed. Poor management leads to bankruptcies and business closures.
It’s time for both political Parties in North Carolina to start looking at the ‘Math of Politics.’ Since 2004, both Parties have lost market position in voter registration. Democrats have lost nearly 7% of the total market and Republicans have lost nearly 4% in the last twelve years. This decline has been off-set by a market increase of nearly 11% of total registration by those voters who declare themselves as Unaffiliated. The chart below tells the story.
As business entities, both Parties have failed miserably in North Carolina. Without the regulatory protection of North Carolina election laws, they would face bankruptcy. Despite spending tens of millions of dollars over the past twelve years, their shares have gotten smaller while the brand growth rests with a brand label that spends no money and only represents a choice of not being identified with the two major brands. The market standing of both Parties is a function of math, not the opinion of any individual.
For three decades (70’s, 80’s, 90’s), Republicans were able to build a winning coalition with conservative Democrats. Carter Wrenn and Tom Ellis called their coalition partners Jessecrats and this coalition of conservative Democrats served as the foundation of Senator Jesse Helms’ five election victories.
Today, while Republicans still win some conservative Democrats, the numbers show a candidate simply cannot achieve a 50% +1 margin with that coalition. In fact, strategies to maximize the base in both Parties are nothing more than a strategy of getting more from less. Just look at the math of voter registration.
The growth of Unaffiliated voters and the nationalization of the Democratic Party in North Carolina by President Obama is moving North Carolina to the left. This has been a gradual shift, and one that will continue unless Republicans develop an issue-set that impedes erosion of the conservative-based vote. Without it, Republicans will still retain the ability to be competitive due to the hard-left direction of the Democratic Party. But with an issue coalition set founded in the math of appealing to Unaffiliated voters, Republicans can dominate state politics for decades to come and drive their Democratic opponents from the field of play.
I pulled past polling data from various statewide races from 1996 – 2016 and plotted out the self-described ideological profile of each group of voters. These historical data-trends show the challenge of winning a large majority of the Unaffiliated votes for both Parties.
The ideological position of each group is calculated by taking the difference between those who call themselves a conservative and those who call themselves a liberal. Republican voters have remained relatively stable, while Democratic voters have trended hard left, leaving conservative Democrats as a dying coalition within their Party.
While Republican ideology has remained relatively stable, the ideological gap between Unaffiliated voters still remains wider than the gap between Democratic voters and Unaffiliated voters. The math of voter registration and this gap, coupled with the decline of conservative Democrats complicates the math of building a winning coalition for Republicans. Simply put, to win statewide, Republicans must win Unaffiliated voters by double-digits while Democrats can slightly lose Unaffiliated voters and still win at the polls.
North Carolina’s voter math is certain to keep the state politically competitive for years to come. To win in November, both Parties must balance the demands of Primary elections against building an issue-set. In this new landscape, the most likely candidate to win is the one that does this the best. Those who ignore the math or fail to grasp the importance building a winning coalition do so at their own peril, giving the opposition an easy victory.