Casual consumers of traditional North Carolina news media and those whose email inboxes are clogged with left-leaning political paraphernalia may be convinced that House Bill 2 has wrecked North Carolina’s economy and certainly will result in the eviction of Gov. Pat McCrory from the Executive Mansion and the end of Republican lawmakers’ majority in the General Assembly.
The onslaught of negative coverage and political punditry against the late March legislation banning cities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances that are tougher than state law, and requiring people to use bathroom and changing facilities in public buildings based on the gender listed on their birth certificates, has been relentless.
Countless media stories from national outlets (including an obnoxious obsession by left-leaning news and sports-talk hosts) has painted a portrait of North Carolina as a haven for bigots. Behind-the-scenes scheming (and some open lobbying) involving progressive political groups, Democratic elected officials, and organizations like the NCAA, resulted in the cancellation of a number of high-profile concerts, sporting events, and conferences.
And on every occasion, the blame for these cancellations has gone directly to McCrory, if not his fellow Republicans in the legislature. The economic and reputational damage caused by H.B. 2 is irreparable, unless the law is repealed and the people who championed it removed from office. So the argument goes.
To use a gambling analogy, the Left and its allies in the media have placed all their chips on black.
But it seems as if the roulette wheel has stopped on red — at least if you consider several recent items in the media.
First, WRAL in Raleigh, which has offered some of the most critical coverage and commentary about H.B. 2, has been unable to find that irreparable economic damage. It tried to quantify the economic impact of cancellations and lost events to the state; a “rough analysis” concluded that the loss to the state economy totaled somewhat more than $500 million.
But North Carolina’s economy is large and diverse, with a gross state domestic product in 2015 of $510 billion. So H.B. 2 may have reduced North Carolina’s economic activity by about 0.1 percent. And even that figure is too high, because it assumes that none of the facilities hosting conference attendees or concert-goers would try to resell those now-empty banquet facilities or hotel rooms. To be sure, the cancellations had local impacts: Vendors who would have sold T-shirts and concessions lost some income. But the overall effect statewide was small.
And the electoral effects may not go the way progressives expected, either. Two recent polls, from Elon University and Public Policy Polling, suggest that the presence of H.B. 2 in the statute books will not deliver huge victories for the Left.
Both polls asked likely voters their opinions of the law and the way McCrory has dealt with it. Elon found 39 percent supported the law and 49 percent opposed it; the PPP results showed 30 percent in favor, 43 percent opposed.
And yet those negative impressions may have little impact on the elections. A mere 36 percent of Elon respondents and 43 percent of PPP survey takers said they would be less likely to vote for McCrory because of the way he handled the law; a majority in each poll said the governor’s response either would make them more likely to re-elect him or have nothing to do with their decision.
You shouldn’t be surprised. Countless articles have been published in recent years discussing so-called single-issue voters — people who cast ballots based on a candidate’s view on one factor and that alone.
Turns out, that formulation appears to be a myth. There are lots of Catholics who vote for pro-choice candidates, for instance, and Prius drivers who are registered Republicans. Voters consider a bundle of issues, establish priorities, and cast their ballots accordingly.
In the most recent Civitas Institute Poll, respondents said the most important issues for state government to confront were improving public education, creating jobs, and reducing health care costs, in that order. Those issues were cited by 75 percent of respondents, and no other item got more than 9 percent support.
Because the state has outperformed the Southeast and the nation since 2013 in both economic and job growth, and state government under conservative leadership has banked considerable savings and surpluses while reducing the tax burden and cutting regulations, the Left has tried to hang the alleged albatross of H.B. 2 around conservatives’ necks.
To the dismay of the Left and their allies in the media, that bird has flown.
Rick Henderson is editor-in-chief of Carolina Journal.