Back in 2012, more North Carolinians voted for Democrats than Republicans in North Carolina’s Congressional elections. But Republicans ended up winning nine out of the state’s 13 seats that year. Those numbers piqued the interest of researchers at Duke, who decided to seek a mathematical explanation for the discrepancy. They recently published a study with their results. It’s near the end of a long workday and math Professor Jonathan Mattingly is climbing a steep set of stairs to his office on Duke University’s campus. “We share this hall with the physics department, physics starts somewhere right down there,” Mattingly says. He opens the door to reveal an office that looks like it belongs to a math professor. There are books everywhere and a big chalkboard on one wall covered with half-erased equations. This is where Mattingly first got the idea to include one of his students, senior Christy Vaughn, in the mathematical conundrum of the 2012 U.S. Congressional Elections in North Carolina. “One day I kinda had this idea that we should look at gerrymandering. And so I called her and I said I got an idea,” says Mattingly. (Gerrymandering is the setting of electoral districts in an attempt to obtain political gain.) “Right away I was very interested in this project because it’s just such a stark result that so few seats were [awarded to Democrats] when the popular vote was so different,” chimes in Vaughn.
That was back in the summer of 2013, when articles were still circulating that blamed those results on gerrymandering at the General Assembly. But Mattingly, who specializes in probability, says no one had attempted to prove or disprove that theory mathematically.
Mattingly said they went in with an open mind. Maybe the discrepancies were due to geographical differences, or perhaps there was some gerrymandering that affected a couple of seats…whatever the result, they wanted the numbers.
“We wanted to ask ourselves, could we quantify, could we give some empirical force to the idea of what the right number of elected officials were,” said Mattingly.
Full Article: Duke Mathematicians Investigate 2012 Election Results | WUNC.