RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – New polling shows a significant majority of voters think gerrymandering is a problem in North Carolina, as courts prepare to weigh in on the legality of the new electoral districts Republicans drew for Congress and the General Assembly.
The poll, which was conducted by the firm Public Policy Polling for the left-leaning Progress North Carolina, found more than 70 percent of voters describe gerrymandering as either a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem in the state.
“It’s a pretty overwhelming outcome here. It’s very unusual in this day and age, especially in a swing state like North Carolina, for there to be consensus on almost anything,” said Jim Williams, polling analyst for PPP.
The state Supreme Court last week ordered next year’s primary election be delayed to May 17 and ordered a three-judge panel in Wake County to issue a ruling on the new maps by Jan. 11. A trial will begin on Jan. 3.
The poll was conducted last week as state courts were issuing conflicting orders about whether candidates should be able to continue filing to run for office amid the lawsuits over the new maps. The Supreme Court abruptly stopped the filing process last Wednesday as part of their order delaying the primary.
Of the voters polled, 49 percent said they agreed with the idea of delaying the primary “to ensure that the districts are fairly and legally drawn.” Another 34 percent disagreed with that, while 18 percent said they were not sure.
“North Carolinians are just fed up with gerrymandering, the power grabs, the endless lawsuits that result from both of them,” said Melissa Price Kromm, director of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections.
The non-partisan and Democratic groups that have sued Republicans claim they unconstitutionally gerrymandered the districts to give their party a significant advantage in winning most of the seats up for grabs in Congress and the General Assembly.
Several independent analyses have found Republicans are favored to win at least 10 of the state’s 14 Congressional seats despite North Carolina’s status as a purple state.
“They’re pouring all the money into these lawsuits to try and bake in results that elect more Democrats. I think they’re completely worried about the wave that is hitting right now,” said Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) in a recent interview and reiterated that Republicans did not consider partisan data in drawing the new districts.
Dr. Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College who has extensively studied the state’s history of redistricting, said there’s not a clear definition of what a fair map is but that it is possible to spot “outlier” maps.
He also pointed to the Republicans’ decision to split Guilford County into three different Congressional districts when it’s currently contained within one.
“Some would argue that what the Republicans did with Guilford was basically crack Democratic votes,” said Bitzer. “Guilford County was one prime example of the dynamics at play there.”
PPP also asked voters about the role of the courts as judges face accusations of partisan bias in handling the redistricting matter.
The Court of Appeals, which is majority Republican, allowed the filing period to continue last week while the Supreme Court, which is majority Democratic, closed it off and delayed the primary to allow the cases to unfold. Neither court released information on how each judge or justice voted.
Plaintiffs made a request last week for Justice Phil Berger Jr. (R) to be disqualified from the redistricting case, noting that his father Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) is one of the defendants named in the case.
Neither of the Bergers commented publicly about that request.
PPP posed the following question to voters: “Phil Berger is the leader of the state Senate and one of the most powerful politicians in North Carolina. Senator Berger’s son, Phil Berger Jr, is a Justice on the state Supreme Court. When the court hears cases involving Senator Berger, do you believe his son, Justice Phil Berger Jr, can remain impartial and rule fairly, or do you believe he should recuse himself and let other judges hear cases involving his father?”
They found 72 percent of voters said he should recuse himself in those matters, while 14 percent said he could remain impartial and rule fairly. Another 15 percent said they were not sure.
PPP surveyed 662 registered voters. Among them, 37 percent identified as Democrat, 33 percent as Republican, and 30 percent as Independent.