Dems Win More Votes; Reps Win More Seats

Nov 9, 2018

Credit North Carolina General Assembly

North Carolina Republicans won majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. But Democrats won more total votes.

In Congressional races, the divide was more stark than at the state level. Despite winning fewer than half of the total votes cast, Republicans won 10 of North Carolina's 13 Congressional seats.

Critics have blamed gerrymandered districts for the lopsided outcome. At the Congressional level, at least, these critics have a point. A series of federal court rulings found that Congressional districts had been illegally gerrymandered. First they were found to be racially gerrymandered, and were subsequently redrawn. Federal courts found those new maps to be a partisan gerrymander, specifically to favor Republicans. That ruling has been appealed, but the Supreme Court has not yet agreed to hear it. Although the judges ruled against Republicans, they also ruled that there was not enough time to redraw the maps for the 2018 mid-term election.

Across the state, Democrats won more total votes than Republicans, but will hold fewer legislative seats.
Credit N.C. State Board of Elections / Jason deBruyn

Maps for the North Carolina General Assembly were also struck down by federal courts as they were also deemed to be racially gerrymandered. Critics had argued it was those gerrymandered maps that gave Republicans a veto-proof majority in the House and Senate. The General Assembly district maps were redrawn by a federal court, and this was the first election under the new maps. A state court, however, recently found that four districts in Wake County were unnecessarily drawn in the redistricting process and violate the state consitution's prohibition on mid-decade redistricting. The court ordered those districts to be redrawn in the next legislative session for districts to be used in the 2020 election.

Gerrymandering uses the concepts of packing and cracking to shape election results. In North Carolina, the Republican led General Assembly drew districts that packed likely Democratic voters into a few districts, while spreading likely Republican voters over many districts. The effect is that Democrats won fewer races, but by larger margins, while Republicans won more races by slim margins.

Consider a football game in which the red team wins three of the quarters by a score of 7-6 and the blue team wins the remaining quarter 24-10. The final score would be 30-17 for the blue team, but the red team won three quarters. Of course, in sports it's only the final score that matters. In politics, each district matters on its own.

Democrats had more wasted votes than Republicans in the North Carolina 2018 midterm elections.
Credit N.C. State Board of Elections / Jason deBruyn

In the North Carolina House, Democrats had an average margin of victory of 12,241, while Republicans had an average margin of victory of 7,221. In the North Carolina Senate, Democrats had an average margin of victory of 23,489, while Republicans had an average margin of victory of 15,904.

That packing and cracking means Democrats wasted more votes than Republicans. Political scientists consider a wasted vote to be any vote for a losing candidate, or any vote for a wining candidate that is more than the losing candidate in that race.

Despite winning fewer than half of the total votes, Republicans will control a majority in the N.C. House.
Credit N.C. State Board of Elections / Jason deBruyn

In the House, Democrats totaled 1.25 million wasted votes, while Republicans totaled 1.02 million wasted votes. In the Senate, Democrats wasted 1.3 million votes, while Republicans wasted 1 million.

Despite winning fewer than half of the total votes, Republicans will control a majority in the N.C. Senate.
Credit N.C. State Board of Elections / Jason deBruyn