Despite the protests and arrests that surrounded last week’s fourth special session, Republicans had an easy time moving their agenda through because they have supermajorities in each chamber—enough to override any veto. And they’ll maintain those supermajorities when the new legislature is sworn in.
In the state Senate, Republicans netted one seat in the November election, bringing their total control of the chamber to thirty-five out of fifty seats. In the House, the Republican caucus won 75 seats out of 120. Meanwhile, Governor-elect Roy Cooper barely scraped by, winning his office by a little more than ten thousand votes.
So, on the surface, that comparison would suggest that they have a mandate—at least more of a mandate than Cooper has—which in turn would appear to lend some legitimacy to their efforts at weakening the incoming governor’s power. But in terms of raw votes, is that really the case?
If you look at the numbers, not really. Nearly 4.8 million people voted in North Carolina this year, a turnout of 69 percent. Nearly 99 percent of them cast a vote in the gubernatorial election: 48.4 percent for Cooper, 48.2 percent for McCrory, and 2.2 percent for Libertarian Lon Cecil, with the rest—1.2 percent—not voting. But far fewer voters checked boxes for House and Senate candidates farther down the ballot.
In all North Carolina Senate races, Republicans won just over 48 percent of voters—thanks to the way districts are drawn, enough to garner 70 percent of Senate seats—while Democrats got 38 percent and Libertarians won 2 percent. Twelve percent didn’t vote or wrote in a candidate. In several cases, there was no need to vote; twelve Republicans ran unopposed, as did six Democrats, meaning the major parties decided not to contest more than a third of all Senate races.
In taking 63 percent of House seats, meanwhile, Republican candidates were backed by just 45 percent of voters, while Democrats (and two unaffiliated candidates, who would have likely caucused with the Democrats) won 41 percent. More than 13 percent didn’t vote in a House race. Thirty-one House Democratic candidates and twenty-seven Republicans ran unopposed, meaning nearly half of House races went uncontested.
To put it simply: Republicans are not as popular as their supermajorities suggest. In fact, House Republicans received fewer cumulative votes than the governor-elect whose legitimacy they’re seeking to undermine, and Senate Republicans only won eleven hundred more votes than Cooper—even though Democrats didn’t contest a dozen seats.
This article appeared in print with the headline “Mandate Schmandate.”
Download the NC House spreadsheet here.