North Carolina’s small leftward shift in 2020 didn’t translate into downballot Democratic gains

North Carolina’s small leftward shift in 2020 didn’t translate into downballot Democratic gains

Our project to calculate the 2020 presidential results for all 435 congressional districts nationwide hits North Carolina, where Donald Trump pulled off a narrow win last year. You can find our detailed calculations here, a large-size map of the results here, and our permanent, bookmarkable link for all 435 districts here.

Trump’s margin in the Tarheel State shrunk from 50-47 in 2016 to 50-49 in 2020, but it was still just enough to allow him to capture the state’s 15 electoral votes again. In between those two presidential cycles, the boundaries of North Carolina’s congressional districts changed due to court-ordered redistricting (the map was also redrawn for the same reason earlier in the decade in 2016), so the numbers we’re presenting to you—for both the 2016 and 2020 elections—have been calculated based on the boundaries used last year.

Trump won the same eight GOP-controlled seats in both contests, while the remaining five Democratic-held constituencies supported both Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. Biden, who, as he did in many other states, likely benefited from a decline in third-party voting, did improve on Hillary Clinton’s margin in 12 districts, but it wasn’t enough to bring any Republican seats into play.

Democrats made a serious attempt to unseat Republican Rep. Richard Hudson in the 8th District, which is located in the Fayetteville and Charlotte suburbs, but Trump didn’t lose nearly as much support here as Team Blue had hoped. Trump only ticked down from 53-44 to 53-46, while Hudson prevailed by a similar 53-47 spread against Democrat Patricia Timmons-Goodson.

The only other seat that Trump carried by single digits this time was Rep. Dan Bishop’s 9th District in the Sandhills and Charlotte suburbs, where his margin flattened from 54-43 in 2016 to 53-46. The previous version of this district hosted a nationally-watched 2019 special election, which took place after the previous year’s results were thrown out due to Republican election fraud. Bishop won that contest 51-49, and Democrats hoped that redistricting, which left the congressman with a redrawn seat that was slightly bluer and 20% new to him, would make him more vulnerable. It was not to be, though, as Bishop won his first full term 56-44.

The GOP-held seat that moved furthest away from Trump was the 11th District, which supported him 57-40 four years ago but 55-43 in 2020. That spread, however, was still more than enough to let one of the most notorious Republican extremists in the freshman class, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, easily defeat Democrat Moe Davis 55-42.

The biggest shift to the left anywhere in the state came in freshman Rep. Deborah Ross’ 2nd District in the Raleigh area, which zoomed from 60-36 Clinton to 64-34 Biden. The 2nd was also one of two GOP-held seats that Team Red all but conceded after redistricting transformed the old Republican gerrymanders into compact seats that heavily favored Democrats. The other was Rep. Kathy Manning’s 6th District in the Greensboro and Winston-Salem areas. Looking at the new district lines, the seat moved from 59-38 Clinton to 62-37 Biden.

The one place where Trump improved on his 2016 margin was another Democratic-held constituency, the 1st District in inland northeastern North Carolina. Clinton won 55-44 here compared to 54-45 Biden, while veteran Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield was reelected by a comparable 54-46 in a contest that attracted little outside spending. (This district was also made much redder in the most recent round of redistricting.)

Republicans maintained their iron grip on both chambers of the state legislature last year thanks in part to their existing gerrymanders, and state law doesn’t give the governor, Democrat Roy Cooper, a veto over redistricting. The only potential constraint on GOP mapmakers is the Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court, but the justices’ involvement is no sure thing.

P.S. A note on our methodology: The precinct-level data provided by the North Carolina Board of Elections includes a small number of votes added algorithmically as “noise” to protect voter privacy in small precincts. We’ve used this data solely for counties that are split between congressional districts; for unsplit counties, we’ve used certified county-level results. As a result, our statewide totals reflect 514 more votes than the state’s certified totals.

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