Breaking Down the New North Carolina Congressional Redistricting Proposal
Republicans in the North Carolina State Senate proposed a new congressional map (CST22-3) today after their previous map was overturned (on party lines) by the North Carolina State Supreme Court for extreme partisan gerrymandering. While Donald Trump would have won 10 of the 14 districts created by the previously rejected Republican map, he only carried 9 of 14 districts under the new lines. Districts 6, 7, 13, and 14 would have been extremely competitive in 2020, with Biden or Trump winning each district by less than two points.
However, since the North Carolina State Supreme Court outlined a clear proportionality requirement in their previous decision that CST22-3 does not satisfy, this map is likely to be rejected by the State Supreme Court even if it passes both legislative chambers (along party lines). If some Democrats in the North Carolina State House show support for this map, the State Supreme Court may be more likely to accept the map and allow it to become law. If the State Supreme Court does not uphold a legislature-approved map by February 23rd, a court-appointed panel will draw the map for the 2022 Midterm Election themselves, after which a new map may be enacted in 2024.
Politically, CST22-3 is roughly half as biased as the previous version, although our modeling still classifies it as a clear Republican gerrymander. Based upon North Carolina’s partisan lean (R+6), Democrats are expected to win 5.9 of the state’s 14 congressional districts on average in a neutral political environment. While Republicans’ previous map would have only yielded Democrats 3.6 seats on average in a neutral environment, Democrats are expected to win 4.7 seats under the CST22-3 lines. This moves North Carolina’s Map Bias Score from -17 (more biased than 96% of other passed maps from this cycle) to -9 (only more biased than 54% of passed maps from this cycle). Map Bias Score is calculated from the difference between actual and fair expected districts based upon the size and partisan lean of the state (positive numbers favor Democrats and negative numbers favor Republicans).
In the short term, Republicans expect to enjoy disproportionate political success under CST22-3. In 2022, Republicans could expect to easily win 9 of the 14 districts, while Democrats would only win 3 districts easily. Districts 1 and 6 would be extremely competitive, but Republicans would be slight favorites to win both of them. A 10/4 (D/R) split would be the most likely outcome, with an 11/3 split the second most likely. Democratic Incumbent Kathy Manning would fight for re-election in her Greensboro-based NC-06, and Democrats would hope to find a strong nominee to replace the retiring G.K. Butterfield in the majority-minority NC-01.
Some national Democrats have argued that North Carolina State Democrats should accept the CST22-3 proposal, focusing on the expected seat Democrats gained relative to the previous map the North Carolina State Supreme Court rejected. Democrats would enjoy potential upside in favorable environments, especially compared to most Republican gerrymanders (Roy Cooper would have carried 8 of 14 CST22-3 seats in his 2020 Gubernatorial victory over Republican Dan Forrest). Democrats have also argued that Republicans could have miscalculated the possible effectiveness of their gerrymander, from a long-term standpoint. Districts 13 (Southern Raleigh) and 14 (Western Charlotte) moved 4 and 3 points to the left relative to the rest of the nation from 2016 to 2020. And although Trump carried District 11 (Ashville) by over 10 points in 2020, the seat also moved left by 3 points, possibly opening it up to Democrats in potential strong midterm environments of 2026 and 2030. Democrats would be most worried by shifts in the majority-minority NC-01, which moved 5 points to the right relative to the nation between 2016 and 2020. The Democrats who hope this map is accepted by the North Carolina Supreme Court, however, are primarily concerned with the possible long-term viability of a court-drawn map. Multiple Democratic North Carolina State Supreme Court Justices in North Carolina are up for re-election in 2022 and are likely to be replaced by Republicans given the expected 2022 national political environment and North Carolina’s partisan lean. Democrats worry that relying on a court-drawn map (which expires in 2022) could be extremely risky. If Republicans gain control of the State Supreme Court in 2022 while a court map is in place, the state party will draw an extreme gerrymander to stay in place from 2024 to 2030. Conversely, if an enacted map such as CST22-3 is passed by the state legislature, it will stay in place for the entire decade.
Critics, however, argue that the map is far from proportional, convoluted, and disenfranchises minority voters. While CST22-3 is a marked improvement from the previous Republican map, it is still a Republican Gerrymander. The map is comparable in bias, in fact, to Democratic gerrymanders in Nevada, Oregon, and New York. Democrats are especially unhappy that CST22-3 splits Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and High Point into three separate districts instead of combining them into a single compact, dark-blue district. Republicans awkwardly tried to decrease the efficiency of their own gerrymander by creating a Democratic opportunity district in the Southern part of the state by connecting Fayetteville to Wilmington. Instead, they could have easily recreated the current compact Tri-City district in the Northern part of the state, which would have made the map more proportional as well as more compact. Although Republicans did create two majority-minority districts, Democrats will be upset that the primarily African-American city of Greenville was split down the middle between NC-01 and NC-03. The entire city could have most logically been included in NC-01 to increase the African-American population contained in NC-01, and increase the proportionality and compactness of the map.