Commentary

Christensen: NC voters reflect demographic shift

rchristensen@newsobserver.comJuly 15, 2014 

Nearly half of North Carolina voters in the last election were born somewhere else, a fact that is particularly evident in fast growing metropolitan areas such as the Triangle.

That likely means that old loyalties and ties mean less today than in the past – whether to political parties, or regions or to traditional cultural issues. The successful candidates are more likely to be those who can appeal to urban/suburban voters.

During the 2012 election, 48 percent of the voters were born outside North Carolina, according to data collected in a new study by the UNC Program on Public Life, which is examining demographic and electoral trends that have positioned North Carolina as one of the nation’s swing states.

That swing status was underscored during the past two presidential elections. In 2008, North Carolina was Democrat Barack Obama’s closest win. In 2012, North Carolina was Mitt Romney’s closest win.

North Carolina was once the most homegrown state in the country. At one time there was a good chance you could place a person’s home county by their last name. But it has been changing over the decades.

The percent of population not born in North Carolina was 5 percent in 1900, 13 percent in 1950, 22 percent in 1970, 37 percent in 2000 and 42 percent in 2010 (48 percent in voting-age population).

The counties with the heaviest in-migration between 2004-2012 were Mecklenburg, Wake, Durham, Buncombe and Cumberland. Other counties with significant in-migration included urban areas such as Guilford and Forsyth, coastal counties such as Onslow and New Hanover, recreational and retirement areas such as Moore and Brunswick and suburbs such as Cabarrus, Union, Orange and Henderson.

The top states where the migrants are coming from, in order, are: Florida, Virginia, New York, South Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and California. (In Wake County, the top contributors of migrants were New York, Virginia, Florida, New Jersey and Maryland.)

More unaffiliated voters

In most of the large counties, the in-migration has meant a sharp increase of unaffiliated voters and to a lesser extent Democratic voters. In Wake County, for example, between 2004-2012, there was an increase of 100,095 unaffiliated voters, 79,344 Democratic voters, and 31,727 Republican voters.

The influx of newcomers has generally helped make the urban counties more Democratic, while making the suburban and beach counties more Republican.

What this all means is there is a political shift going on in the state, with the large metropolitan areas playing a larger role in North Carolina politics. The metro areas tend to have a greater percentage of people born outside the state, and their cities are becoming more Democratic, while the suburbs are becoming more Republican.

Which means, bagels as well as grits will be now served at many North Carolina political breakfasts.

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or rchristensen@newsobserver.com

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