By Michael J. Solender
Members of the Charlotte chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists were treated to a lively discussion April 5 at their monthly meeting in Dilworth. The guest speaker was Dr. Michael Bitzer, chair of the Department of History and Politics and associate professor at Catawba College. Bitzer is an avid blogger, weighing in through The Party Line at WFAE’s website, and Twitter user at @catawbapolitics for N.C. politics, and he shared some of his most recent research.
Stating his fascination with campaigns, elections and the polarization that comes from partisan politics, Bitzer has set out to learn from and predict voting behavior and gain a better understanding of where the Grand Canyon-like divide in our local, state and national politics is coming from.
Bitzer brought with him a colorful district map of Mecklenburg County precincts based on the PVI, or Partisan Voting Index, to illustrate just how polarized the Democratic and Republican voting bases are in Mecklenburg County (site of the Democratic National Convention in early September, in case you’ve been living under a rock). Bitzer used data from the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections and compared precinct results to national averages to determine the likelihood of voting one way or another. His chart shows strong party loyalty in an overwhelming majority of precincts, which is likely predictive of strong partisan voting results.
What does it all mean? Mecklenburg County has few swing voters, and a great many voters have already made up their minds about the 2012 presidential race. Of the 243 districts, only 13 were identified as tossups in Bitzer’s data.
The quick review of this information led to Bitzer sharing his analysis of what he sees as a sorting process going on across the country. He cited two books that explore this political, social and economic sort in more depth: The Big Sort by Bill Bishop, and Patchwork Nation by James G. Gimpel and Jason E. Schuknecht.
Bitzer spoke about a lessening of split-party voting and shared that those who identify themselves as either Republicans or Democrats have a 90 percent likelihood of voting their ticket in national elections.
(Yes, the state and nation are seeing an increase in those who register unaffiliated, with the electorate essentially divided in thirds, Bitzer noted, but that grouping in thirds has been apparent for years. What that means for groups like Americans Elect remains to be seen, he said. Bitzer expressed doubts that the group could serve as anything beyond a spoiler in 2012. For voter registration details, see the Carolina Transparency voter charts.)
He predicted a tough go for the presumptive Republic nominee for president, Mitt Romney, in November’s election as he sees an inability to connect with those unaffiliated voters, who are increasingly becoming the coveted “middle” choice wooed by polarized main parties. Three months ago, Romney had a 10-point lead in polls over Obama with independent voters; today, the president has the same margin over Romney among that group, Bitzer said.
Those in attendance were quite interested in the role Hispanics, women and minorities would play in upcoming elections, and Bitzer was quick to share that he saw these groups carrying increasing weight, particularly in battleground states such as Florida, Ohio and Texas. Long term, it is in Texas, where Bitzer sees an increasing vulnerability for Republics as an entire generation of Hispanics is being won over by Democrats.