Is North Carolina facing a Virginia-style leftward leaning lurch?

Published February 13, 2020

By Andy Jackson

The News & Observer’s Ned Barnett recently wrote an editorial in which he stated that North Carolina may soon be in for a sudden lurch to the left like the one Virginia is currently experiencing. The basic premise is real enough; that a more left-leaning Democratic Party, frustrated by years of being out of power, could unleash a torrent of progressive legislation after taking control of the General Assembly:

But that frustration could trigger a Virginia-like rush of liberal reforms if Democrats win back the state House and Senate this November or in 2022.
We at Civitas have covered what the left would do if they came into power in North Carolina (here is one example). The real question is whether Democrats will take control of the General Assembly in 2020 or 2022. Barnett believes that demographic trends make that likely:

North Carolina went for Trump in 2016, but the home counties of most of its larger cities — Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Winston-Salem and Asheville — went for Hillary Clinton. Those blue urban counties — supported by universities, banking and high-tech companies — are growing as the Republicans’ rural base is eroding. The shift that tipped Virginia to the left is now rumbling under North Carolina.
There are a couple of problems with Barnett’s analysis. The first problem is that the Republican’s rural base is not eroding, it is expanding. As I noted just two weeks ago, Republican voter registration has increased in eighty-seven, mostly rural, counties while Democratic registration has declined in 90 counties. It is not the Republican’s rural base that has eroded, it is the Democrat’s base. (Virginia does not have registration by party, making an apples-to-apples comparison difficult.)

To be sure, Democrats are expanding their advantage over Republicans in several urban counties, most notably Mecklenburg and Wake. However, when looking at metro areas as a whole, that apparent Democratic advantage is muted if not reversed. I have looked at the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NC combined statistical area (CSA) and the Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC Metropolitan Statistical Area and found in both regions that the change was more of a shift in party support within both regions (with core urban areas becoming more Democratic and surrounding areas becoming more Republican) than an emerging Democratic dominance. That is something you may miss if your political vision ends at the city limits.

Of course, none of this means that North Carolina will become a one-party Republican state in the near future. It is certainly possible that the Democrats could come to power in the General Assembly after the next election, giving the left an opportunity to impose their agenda on the state. However, there is nothing in the data that suggests that such a shift towards the left in North Carolina is inevitable.