The new reality: North Carolina is getting more diverse, the urban-rural divide is not just about economics, but also political ideology, and we are becoming more politically independent.
Last week, at a breakfast sponsored by the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce, Joe Stewart of the Free Enterprise Foundation was the guest speaker. His nonprofit organization is non-partisan and conducts research and analysis on state issues surrounding electoral politics and voters. So, he came loaded with statistics that anyone who follows state politics has likely heard about, but just not seen presented in such a succinct package.
So, with a big thank you to Stewart, here’s some of what he told us…
Diversity is something we hear about all the time. We all know the United States is becoming more brown, but his numbers show that North Carolina is definitely one of the states leading the way. In 1990, we had 6.6 million residents and our ethnic breakdown was 75.6 percent white, 22 percent black, 1.2 percent Hispanic, and 1.2 percent other. In 2015, we had 10 million folks and the breakdown was 63.8 percent white, 22.1 percent black, 9.1 percent Hispanic, and 5 percent other.
Hispanics and “other” — mostly Asians — now account for almost 15 percent of the state’s population.
And those minority populations are growing extremely fast. In five years, from 2010 to 2015, the growth rate among the state’s population was 3 percent for whites, 6 percent for blacks, 15 percent for Hispanics, 31 percent for Asians, and 21 percent for those who described themselves as “multi-ethnic.”
According to the Census Bureau, Hispanics will account for 30 percent of North Carolina’s population by 2050. That’s really an amazing and fascinating demographic shift to ponder.
Just as a dramatic demographic shift is changing North Carolina, so too are our state’s politics undergoing a similar reshaping. Unaffiliated voters have now surpassed Republicans as the number two block. The Democratic Party has been steadily losing voters for a decade (for example, Haywood County’s Democratic voter registration has declined by 27 percent since 2008), and though the GOP is gaining slightly, it’s those now registering as unaffiliated who will likely provide the swing margins in each election.
In Wake County, for example, unaffiliated voter registration jumped by 89,000 from 2008-2017, while Democratic numbers increased by 10,000 and the GOP by 3,700.
If current trends paint an accurate picture, a lot of those unaffiliated voters are voting Republican — especially in the state’s rural areas.
We’ve reported for years about the power and population shift to the state’s urban areas. Forty-nine of the state’s counties have lost population since 2010, and all of those counties are considered rural.
But the state’s large urban areas have also become a stronghold for Democratic candidates at the state and national level. Obama and Clinton won those regions while the state as a whole voted in a lot of Republicans.
Finally, the baby boomers and their power are fading fast. MIllennials (born in the early 1980s) now account for about 27 percent of the state’s voter registration, while Generation X’ers (born from 1965 to the early 1980s) also account for 27 percent of the state’s registered voters. That is a majority, clear and simple.
Which means a majority of the state’s voters remember Vietnam, the draft and the 1960s only from history books or television. To me, born on the tail end of the baby boom in 1959, that’s almost unfathomable.
It’s a different North Carolina and a changing country, but that’s OK with me. Count me among those old white guys who think the kids will do just fine.