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What the data shows about North Carolina voters

By D. G. Martin
Posted Friday, November 2, 2012

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Chapel Hill, NC - “It is the greatest thing that could happen to the conservative cause in North Carolina.”

Back in 1988, former state representative Ivan Mothershead, a Mecklenburg Republican, was commenting on my move from Charlotte to Chapel Hill.

“Your move will make two communities a lot more conservative.”

Ivan’s humor pointed out an uncontested fact. Chapel Hill is a whole lot more liberal than Charlotte. It took some time for me to get used to being to the right of many of my friends and neighbors in Chapel Hill after being to the left of lots of my Charlotte friends.

All that came cascading back as I read the report on the composition of North Carolina’s electorate in the October issue of DataNet, published by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Program on Public Life, which is led by former News & Observer journalist Ferrel Guillory. DataNet is available on line at .

One of Guillory’s many items designed to show the complicated make-up of the North Carolina voters compared the presidential campaign contributions this year in two zip code areas: 28207 in Charlotte and 27514 in Chapel Hill. Coincidentally, I lived in 28207 before my move and now live in 27514.

So far this year my former Charlotte zip code neighbors have given $250,700 to Romney and $74,408 to Obama, a ratio of about four to one.

Meanwhile, my current Chapel Hill zip code neighbors gave $ 325,830 to Obama and $61,925 to Romney, a ratio of about five to one.

These contribution reports show that Mothershead knew what he was talking about when he pointed out the differing political allegiances of my former and current neighborhoods.

Geography does make a big difference in North Carolina, and DataNet has delved into them in several previous issues. The current issue highlights changing patterns in the state as a whole.

*In 1996 eight of 10 North Carolina voters were white. In 2008, it was about seven in 10. The African-American share of the electorate has risen from 18 percent to 23 percent, while Latinos, Asians and other ethnic groups make up the difference. While whites still make up a heavy majority, the DataNet report shows their dominating position is gradually decreasing.

*In the 2008 election Obama got the votes of more than 50 percent of people with incomes of $50,000 or less. Among those who made between $50,000 and $200,000, Obama’s support dropped significantly. Surprisingly though, almost 50 percent of those making over $200,000 voted for Obama.

*Many North Carolinians, whatever their political persuasion, have been barraged by political ads on television. The cost as of mid-October was about $85 million. But, according to DataNet, not all parts of North Carolina got the same amount of attention. For instance, no candidate had bought ads in the Wilmington market, although there was some spending there by independent groups in support of one of the candidates. Romney’s campaign had spent no money for TV ads in the Asheville market.

DataNet called the 2008 election a “tide-changing” one in light of Democrat Obama’s slim victory, after years of solid victories by Republican presidential candidates in our state. Now Guillory writes, “Thus, we await the results of the 2012 election to provide more data on whether 2008 represented the emergence of a new trend, or whether North Carolina will return to its previous pattern of giving its electoral votes to Republicans in presidential elections.”

However, the facts that Guillory shares with us in DataNet indicate that whichever candidate carries North Carolina next week, the trend of close presidential contests in North Carolina is likely to continue this year and for some years to come.

Whether we like it or not.


D.G. Martin hosts UNC-TV’s "North Carolina Bookwatch," which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at

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What the data shows about North Carolina voters

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