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What’s purple and yet still red all over?

Asked for superlatives to apply to North Carolina nationally, you might come up with: Most friendly, most beautiful, best in basketball.

Now try this: Most purple.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at our legislature or our congressional delegation. But new data from extensive Gallup surveys show that North Carolina is almost perfectly split between people who call themselves Democratic or leaning that way and those calling themselves Republican or leaning that way.

Gallup says 41.9 percent of North Carolinians say they are Republican or lean that way; 41.3 percent say they are or lean Democratic. That 0.6-point difference makes North Carolina the most evenly divided state in the nation after Ohio, where the difference is 0.4. (For comparison, Wyoming has a difference of 40.1 toward Republicans, and New York has a difference of 24.8 toward Democrats.)

The numbers, as N.C. political analyst John Davis brought to our attention this week, mean that 25 states lean more Republican than North Carolina and 24 states plus the District of Columbia lean more Democratic.

That makes us more like Wisconsin than South Carolina, more like Minnesota than Tennessee. The results are based on interviews with 178,527 adults throughout 2013.

Gallup also asked about ideology, and again North Carolina ranks right in the middle. N.C. residents identify themselves as 40 percent conservative, 35.6 percent moderate and 19 percent liberal. That makes North Carolina the 24th most conservative state. (South Carolina ranks 7th.)

“North Carolina,” Davis concludes, “is the most perfectly balanced political battlefield in America.”

And yet. Republicans dramatically outnumber Democrats in the N.C. House, 77-43. They hold a veto-proof majority in the N.C. Senate, 33-17. Republicans control the N.C. congressional delegation 9-4, and that could soon climb to 10-3.

All of this explains a lot about how the 2014 elections are shaping up now that filing to run for office ended Friday. Of Mecklenburg’s five state Senate seats, three will feature no general election and the other two will have token opposition from the minority party. Seven of Mecklenburg’s 12 state House seats were decided on Friday – the lone candidate running in each of those districts faces no opposition in the primary or the general election. In an eighth, the Republican has no primary and faces a Libertarian in the fall.

So 11 of Mecklenburg’s 17 legislative seats face no major-party opposition in November. Many of the remaining six are a shoo-in for one party or the other.

In a state that’s one of the most politically balanced in the country, very few legislative or congressional seats are truly competitive. It’s the magic of gerrymandering, in which the legislators in power use sophisticated technology to choose their voters and draw safe seats for themselves. It discourages challengers from even considering a run, and it renders the vote of a big chunk of voters meaningless. It was wrong when Democrats did it for years, and it’s wrong now.

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