Progressive Pendulum: Rescuing Robeson County

This is part 12 of the PredictWise series on congressional districts that are seen as competitive in the 2018 election according to PredictWise and Cook: The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum, with new entries coming right here on PredictWise every Tuesday. Instead of the ins-and-outs of the horse-race, this series sheds light on the ideological landscape in these districts. How do residents tick politically? What are their stances on the hot-button issues of the day, from immigration to gun regulation? How do they view traditional political fields, from taxation to healthcare? What role do environmental policies play in the mind of voters of these Districts? How does the Progressive Pendulum swing?  Today, we will zoom in on the 0th Congressional North Carolina.


NC-09: A very diverse district, including Robeson county, one of the most conservative districts in the country (think corporal punishment in schools), as well as highly-educated Mecklenburg county, including parts of Charlotte This district sees Democratic candidate Dan McCready squaring off against Republican Mark Harris, who has unseated Republican incumbent Robert Pittenger and brought national media attention by calling upon women to submit to their husbands. The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum has identified some openings on progressive messages around gun regulation, pre-existing conditions and taxes, but Democratic strategists need to take into account a more conservative constituency on social issues.


Overview


This district was re-drawn in February 2016 after a U.S. District Court overturned the existing boundaries. It includes Union, Anson, Richmond, Scotland and Robeson counties; a southeast portion of Mecklenburg County, and most of Cumberland and Bladen counties. It is also a very diverse district. Mecklenburg county is highly educated, white and relatively wealthy, with a median income of $56,472, and a college graduation rate of 43.1%. Robeson county is much more rural, less educated, an poorer, with a median income of $31,298 and a poverty rate of over 30%. The district as a whole boasts a median annual family income of only $61,369, and a college graduation rate of 34.2%, slightly higher than the national average of 33%. And, the vast majority of residents here is employed in Management, business, science, and arts (more than 40%). Ethnically, the district is heavily white, with a large number of African Americans (14%). 

As far as elections go, this district has been in Republican hands since it was created, but the Republican primaries this year shook up what was playing out to be a relatively safe Republican district. Incumbent Robert Pittenger (Republican) lost as a sitting Congressman to Southern Baptist Minister and firebrand Mark Harris, making Pittenger the first sitting congressman in 2018 to loose a primary. And, this has created unpredictable dynamics in this otherwise staunchly conservative district: While  the Cook PVI  – comparing a congressional district’s average Democratic or Republican Party share of the two-party presidential vote in the past two presidential elections to the national average share for those elections – is set at R+7, Cook rates the race as "Toss-up".  The most recent public polls we are aware of has this race virtually tied, or at least within the margin of error, and while both our generic ballot polling as well as our candidate-specific, private polling we are conducting in this district has Democratic challenger Dan McCready down by a couple of points, it is well within model error.

And, it is not surprising that such a staunchly Republican district is suddenly up for grabs. Republican candidate Mark Harris is well-known for his ultra-conservative sermons, questioning whether careers are the “healthiest pursuit” for women, and calling on women to “submit” to their husbands – which could ultimately proof too conservative for parts of this district. In consequence, this race has become the most expensive in North Carolina, attracting over $5 Million in outside spending. No surprise then that McCready has been added to the DCCC Red-to-Blue list, indicating that the organization to elect Democrats to congress believes FL-26 to be crucial in their efforts to flip the House.

Politically, McCready touts his Christian faith and military service, and is otherwise running on a fairly opaque platform on preserving Social Security and Medicare, lowering prices of subscription drugs, cutting taxes for the middle class, and fighting against special interests, term limits, and career politicians. Further, he intends to "streamline" regulations, but expand clean air and water protection and education. He supports ICE, the Second Amendment, and is fighting for equal pay. Harris, on the other hand, is focusing on repealing and replacing the ACA, introducing term limits, and balancing the budget. He is running on appealing the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits all 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, including many churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates.


NC-09: Staunchly conservative on social values


Undeniably, this district is very conservative when it comes to social values, in fact one of the most conservative in North Carolina. Example? 77% of all likely voters here believe that more influence of churches in daily life would make society better, including more than two thirds of likely voters identifying with the Democratic party and 85% of Republicans. Again, this district is home to Mecklenburg county, including parts of business-oriented Charlotte, and Robeson county, one of the most conservative counties in the state. Example? Robeson county was the second-to-last county in North Carolina to ban the practice of corporal punishment, or "paddling", in schools. And, HB2, or House Bill 2, one of the most radical pieces of anti-LBTQ legislation and infamously known as "Bathroom Bill", passed with support of Democratic state representatives representing Robeson county, among others, ultimately leading to the NBA changing the venue of the 2017 NBA All-Star game from Charlotte to New Orleans.

This conservatism plays out on other issues related to the social dimension of the political space, although not as dramatically. For example, a minority, 46% of likely voters, support access to unconditional abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy. While this includes a majority of Democrats – 56%, only 38% of Republicans are in support. 


NC-09: Progressive on economic policies


On economic policies, however, this district's pulse is liberal and progressive. Likely voters here acknowledge that more needs to be done to economically support the poor. 57% of likely voters believe that poor people have it hard, without enough government resources to succeed, when it comes to education. And this includes majorities of Republican likely voters – 46%, as opposed to 41% who believe the poor people have it easy, with ample government benefits to succeed – and Democratic likely voters (69%).

And, this readily translates into concrete policy preferences that are clearly progressive. On taxation, for example, a clear majority of likely voters, 58%, including 67% of Democrats, believe that the government should raise taxes with income over $250,000 to provide more services. And, this includes 49% of Republicans – a majority compared to the 41% of Republicans who believe that the government should lower taxes and cut government services. In sum, McCready would certainly fare better to couple his call for a middle-class tax-cut to a proposal to increase taxes to the wealthy.

McCready is out of touch with the majority of likely voters here in this Southern North Carolinian district on another key issue: regulation. While McCready touts his plan to further deregulate, majorities of all likely voters (62%), likely voters identifying with the Democratic Party (64%), and, incredibly, voters identifying with the Republican Party (62%) believe that government regulations in general are necessary to protect the public interest.

On two more issues, McCready could afford more aggressively communicating his positions – healthcare and the environment. On healthcare, voters here are quite progressive. 54% of all voters, including 66% of Democrats, believe that it is the responsibility of the government to ensure coverage when it comes to people with pre-existing conditions. And, 43% of Republicans are in support of this, as opposed to 44% who oppose this.

On the environment, 50% of likely voters in this district support increased government spending and regulations addressing climate change even if it reduced economic activity. 1: This is a majority, with just 36% of likely voters in this North Carolinian district in opposition. 2: We see very limited partisan breakdown, with 53% of Democrats, but also 47% of Republicans in support – only a 6 percentage point differential!


NC-09: Progressive on guns, conservative on military


We see a similar progressive dynamic on guns: an unrestricted interpretation of the Second Amendment is not popular here! In fact, 69% of all likely voters believe the right to buy assault weapons should be restricted, and this includes a whopping majority of Democrats (81%), as well as 57% of RepublicansOn the military, however, the district skews more conservative. McCready, in touting his past military service, fits well with the district here: 59% of all voters believe the role and scope of the US military should be expanded – including almost 70% of Republicans and almost 50% of Democrats, whereas only 26% of Democrats believe it should be decreased.


NC-09: conservative on social issues, yes. But, why not run on core progressive issues loud & proud?


In sum, there is no question that this district is structurally conservative; it covers some of the same grounds where state legislators backed the infamous "Bathroom Bill" in a bipartisan effort. So, in a way, McCready's careful approach makes sense. But, on issues, especially economic issues, this district thinks progressive. We wish McCready would be more outspoken about protecting pre-existing conditions, and would find the courage to tie his ideas of a middle class tax cut to a tax increase for the rich. His plans to further de-regulation on some fronts is squarely at odds with public opinion in this district. In sum, there is room in this very diverse district to run on progressive issues loud and proud.