Caution: NC’s Population Growth Yields Fewer Democrats but More Liberals; More Republicans and Fewer Conservatives

by johndavis, March 3, 2011

[audio:http://www.johndavisconsulting.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Audio-March-3-Pop-Growth.mp3|titles=Audio March 3 Pop Growth] “If they [Republicans in Congress] focus only on austerity and neglect to offer a pro-growth message, their attempt to tame the budget will be of limited appeal and could prove to be their undoing.”  Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2011 Political Implications of NC’s 84% Voter Population Growth
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[audio:http://www.johndavisconsulting.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Audio-March-3-Pop-Growth.mp3|titles=Audio March 3 Pop Growth]

“If they [Republicans in Congress] focus only on austerity and neglect to offer a pro-growth message, their attempt to tame the budget will be of limited appeal and could prove to be their undoing.”  Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2011

Political Implications of NC’s 84% Voter Population Growth Since 1990

Granted, yesterday’s big news that North Carolina’s population has grown 18.5% in one decade is something to write about.  However, in order to see just how dramatically we have changed politically you should take a look at the 84% growth in registered voters since 1990.

The 84% growth in registered voters since 1990 has yielded confounding results:  the political market share of Democrats has declined by 30%, yet we have twice as many liberals.  There are a million more Republicans, yet the market share of conservatives has declined by 20%.

Caution: The greatest political challenge ahead for the new GOP legislative majority is how to initiate conservative solutions to state government problems without alienating the majority of voters who prefer results over party or ideology … voters who are more likely to say that they are “liberal” (17.6%) or “moderate” (37.3%) than “conservative” (41.4%).[i]

Voter population growth yields fewer Democrats: In 1990, there were 3.3 million voters in North Carolina.  As of February 26, 2011, there are 6.1 million voters … an 84% increase.

  • In 1990,[ii] 64% of NC registered voters were Democrats
  • Today, only 45% of registered voters are Democrats (30% decline)
  • In 1990, 31% of NC registered voters were Republicans
  • Today, the Republican share 32% (no change)
  • In 1990, 6% of NC registered voters were “Unaffiliated”
  • Today, the “Unaffiliated” registration is 24% (a 400% increase)

Half of NC’s Voters are in 14 Urban Counties

The geography of North Carolina is unchanged.  The mountains are still standing where they stood in 1587 when the “Lost Colony” of British immigrants first settled on Roanoke Island.  The ocean waves still wash ashore along the coast just like they did in 1781 when North Carolina patriot militiamen defeated Cornwallis at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse during the Revolutionary War.  It’s the profile of the people who make up modern day North Carolina that has undergone profound change … change driven by dramatic population growth in the last few decades.

Throughout most of our history, we were a Southern state … rural and conservative.  Today, we are more diverse … more like the nation than the South; more urban and ideologically moderate.

Today, half of North Carolina's 6.1 million voters reside in 14 counties; the other half reside in the other 86 counties.  That means that once the new legislative maps are drawn, half of the state Senators and House members will be from 14 counties, the other half from the other 86 counties.

Non-Southern Newcomers Remix Liberals, Moderates, and Conservatives

As to the ideological shift, according to polling and democratic research conducted throughout the past two decades, two-thirds of the newcomers to North Carolina are not from the South. The leading states sending new voters to North Carolina are Pennsylvania, California, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Ohio.  Although these new voters have caused the 30% decline in the number of registered Democrats, their predominantly progressive political ideology has led to a doubling of self-described liberals.

Since the early 1990s, while serving as President of NCFREE, I asked the following question in all statewide polls:  “For most government policies do you prefer the solutions offered by liberals, moderates, or conservatives?"  (If Liberal, ask ...) "Would that be very liberal or just liberal?" (If conservative, ask ...) "Would that be very conservative or just conservative?"

Prior to 1995, the total “Liberal” was always a single digit number in statewide public opinion polls.  In 1995, the total “Liberal” increased to 10.3% (“Liberal” 8.8%; “Very Liberal” 1.5%).[i]

Today, polls show the total self-described liberals in North Carolina consistently closer to 20%, with conservatives around 45% and moderates around 35%.

According to Tom Jensen with Public Policy Polling, their latest North Carolina poll shows 16% of our voters describing themselves as liberal, 40% moderate, and 44% conservative.  (For emphasis: 56% NOT claiming to be conservative … in a Republican-friendly year!)

A new study released this week by Gallup shows that based on tracking polls throughout 2010 North Carolina is 41.4% conservative, 37.3% moderate and 17.6% liberal.  Only two Southern states are more liberal and less conservative than North Carolina: Florida and Virginia.  It’s no coincidence that those three states are the only Southern states carried by President Obama.

Although liberals and moderates combined are already well over half of all voters, their share of voters in urban areas increases considerably.  Restated for emphasis: Half of all voters in North Carolina’s 100 counties live in 14 urban counties.  These 14 counties were carried by the Obama/Biden ticket with 1,027,114 votes to only 692,939 for the GOP McCain/Palin ticket.

Conservative Governance of a Moderate, Battleground State

As stated at the outset, the greatest political challenge ahead for the new GOP legislative majority is how to initiate conservative solutions to state government problems without alienating the majority of voters who prefer results over party or ideology … voters who are more likely to say that they are “liberal” or “moderate” than “conservative”.[i]

Karl Rove writes in today’s Wall Street Journal, “If they [Republicans in Congress] focus only on austerity and neglect to offer a pro-growth message, their attempt to tame the budget will be of limited appeal and could prove to be their undoing.”  Rove concludes, “Americans today want to know what steps Republicans will take to create more jobs, bigger paychecks and greater prosperity.”

There you have it.  The way to meet the challenge of governing as a conservative in a moderate state is to stay keenly focused on what North Carolinians want … the same thing all Americans want, “more jobs, bigger paychecks and greater prosperity.”

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[i] NCFREE statewide survey of 800 registered voters in North Carolina conducted between the dates of February 27 - March 3, 1995.  The survey is based upon actual telephone interviews with registered voters.

[ii] http://www.gallup.com/poll/125066/State-States.aspx

[iii] http://www.gallup.com/poll/125066/State-States.aspx

[iv] 1990 voter registration numbers are from the State Board of Elections.  My sincere thanks to Jacque Blaeske who took the time to find them and send them to me.

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