The Tar Heel State’s Political Map


The Tar Heel State has grown steadily over the past decade. After being  the “last in” in 2000 — North Carolina was awarded the final House seat in reapportionment, bringing its tally to 13 — it was the “first out” in 2010 — falling just short of the population needed for a 14th seat. Statewide, population grew by 18.5% over those 10 years.

The state’s growth has centered in urban areas, changing North Carolina’s political and cultural disposition. Raleigh and Charlotte, the state’s two largest cities, each saw population growth of over 30% between 2000 and 2010, while most rural counties grew at less than half that rate. As the chart below shows, the political power in North Carolina now lies in a trio of urban centers: Charlotte, the Triangle (anchored around Raleigh, the state’s capital and fastest-growing city), and the Triad (comprised primarily of Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point). Those three regions now contain nearly two-thirds of the state’s population, wielding outsized political influence in a state where political power has historically been diffuse.

Chart 1: Regional two-party vote, 2008 Election

Democrats are excited about their chances with growing urban concentrations of voters with advanced degrees — historically a friendly group to Dems. Republicans are not relying solely on dispersed rural voters, but have made inroads in urban areas as well — a must if they are to stay competitive given the state’s changing political balance. In 2010, the GOP took over the state legislature for the first time since 1870 — a sign they can compete even as the state becomes more urban and less white.

Charlotte will perhaps be the most intriguing battleground in the 2012 presidential race. President Obama won the Queen City’s Mecklenburg County with 62% of the vote in 2008 and Democrats will host their national convention there in September. Charlotte voters, however, live and work in the country’s second-largest financial center — home to Bank of America — and may sympathize with Mitt Romney if attacks on his Bain background remain a centerpiece of the Obama campaign. In 2012 and beyond, both parties will be tested as they scramble to adapt to this shifting battleground.

Map 1: Political map of North Carolina

Map 2: Geographic map of North Carolina

NOTES: Click on the maps for larger versions. Regions are based on the metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and the geographical definitions of regional partnership organizations in North Carolina.