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State Redistricting Profile: North Carolina

Here’s how North Carolina’s demographics have changed since the last time maps were drawn — and what those changes mean for this decade’s redistricting cycle.

Published: October 8, 2021
View the entire Redistricting and Changing Demographics in Key States series

In the coming weeks, the North Caro­lina legis­lature is expec­ted to pass new state legis­lat­ive and congres­sional district maps. The purpose of this process is to account for popu­la­tion changes that have occurred over the past decade as meas­ured by recently released 2020 Census data. In North Caro­lina, these changes have been signi­fic­ant, with the state’s popu­la­tion grow­ing by 9.5 percent, from 9,535,483 to 10,439,388 people, between 2010 and 2020.

As in 2011, when districts were last drawn, Repub­lican lawmakers in North Caro­lina will have complete control over the process. Under the North Caro­lina Consti­tu­tion, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Demo­crat, does not have the power to veto maps passed by the legis­lature. But the legal land­scape has shif­ted since then. Because of a 2013 Supreme Court ruling strik­ing down a key provi­sion of the Voting Rights Act, for the first time in six decades the state no longer needs to obtain preapproval of maps from the U.S. Depart­ment of Justice or a federal court in Wash­ing­ton, DC, to ensure they do not discrim­in­ate by race. Forty North Caro­lina counties were previ­ously covered by the law. And in a 2019 ruling, the Supreme Court also fore­closed the possib­il­ity that federal courts could serve as a back­stop to partisan gerry­man­der­ing, no matter how brazen or extreme. But North Caro­lina state courts struck down both congres­sional and legis­lat­ive maps last decade as partisan gerry­manders that viol­ated the state’s consti­tu­tion.

Thus, North Caro­lin­a’s 120 state house, 50 state senate, and 14 congres­sional districts are being drawn under single-party control with a state law frame­work that has gotten better and a federal one that has gotten worse. This analysis summar­izes North Caro­lin­a’s major popu­la­tion trends of the last decade, both statewide and in its fast-grow­ing metro areas, and exam­ines their redis­trict­ing implic­a­tions.

High­lights:

  • Black, Latino, Asian, and multiracial North Carolini­ans collect­ively account for nearly 90 percent of the 903,905 people that the state added to its popu­la­tion between 2010 and 2020. Nearly all of this growth was among adults. foot­note1_otuu8rt 1 Rebecca Tippett, “NC Growth over Last Decade Entirely from Adult Popu­la­tion,” Caro­lina Demo­graphy, August 16, 2021, https://www.ncdemo­graphy.org/2021/08/16/nc-growth-over-last-decade-entirely-from-adult-popu­la­tion/.
     
  • Almost 50 percent of North Caro­lin­a’s popu­la­tion gains are concen­trated in just two counties: Mecklen­burg County in the Char­lotte metro area and Wake County in the Research Triangle region. These two counties far outpaced all others in terms of growth, and they now have numbers to support increased repres­ent­a­tion, includ­ing nearly three addi­tional state house districts. foot­note2_eblc5ei 2 Based on popu­la­tion growth over the last decade, Wake County should receive roughly 70 percent of an addi­tional state senate district, 1.65 state house districts, and 29 percent of a congres­sional district. Mecklen­burg County should receive roughly an addi­tional 50 percent of a state senate district, 1.25 state house districts, and 24 percent of a congres­sional district.
     
  • Two inter­re­lated issues to watch will be the extent to which this growth trans­lates into addi­tional elect­oral oppor­tun­it­ies for communit­ies of color, which accoun­ted for almost all of the state’s net popu­la­tion growth, and whether the resid­ents of fast-grow­ing Mecklen­burg and Wake Counties — both Demo­cratic strong­holds — receive increased repres­ent­a­tion.

Statewide Analysis

North Caro­lina gained over 900,000 new resid­ents over the course of the decade, rank­ing sixth among all states in total popu­la­tion growth. foot­note3_msihdla 3 2020 U.S. Census PL 94–171 redis­trict­ing data summary files and 2010 U.S. Census data show that North Caro­lina added the sixth most people of all states between 2010 and 2020, trail­ing only Texas, Flor­ida, Cali­for­nia, Geor­gia, and Wash­ing­ton. North Caro­lina ranks 16th in relat­ive popu­la­tion growth.  This growth was not evenly spread across the state, with a number of counties in east­ern North Caro­lina and other rural regions seeing their popu­la­tions stag­nate or decrease. Accord­ing to estim­ates from 2019, about one-third of this growth is attrib­ut­able to natural increase foot­note4_0grf2np 4 Total popu­la­tion growth in North Caro­lina from 2010 to 2019 was estim­ated at 952,333, with the natural increase estim­ated at 307,836. U.S. Census Bureau, “Table 4. Cumu­lat­ive Estim­ates of Resid­ent Popu­la­tion Change of the United States, Regions, State, and Puerto Rico” and “Region and State Rank­ings: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2010,” Decem­ber 2019, avail­able at https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/popest/2010s-state-total.html.  and two-thirds due to people moving to North Caro­lina, either from other parts of the United States or from abroad. foot­note5_xr7oryn 5 Popu­la­tion growth in North Caro­lina from 2010 to 2019 due to inter­na­tional immig­ra­tion was estim­ated at 163,662, and change due to domestic in-migra­tion was estim­ated at 475,508. North Caro­lina ranked 15th nation­wide in inter­na­tional immig­ra­tion. U.S. Census Bureau, “Cumu­lat­ive Estim­ates.” In 2019, Flor­ida, Virginia, South Caro­lina, New York, Geor­gia, Cali­for­nia, and New Jersey were the top senders of popu­la­tion to North Caro­lina. U.S. Census Bureau, “Table 1. State-to-State Migra­tion Flows: 2019,” from the 2019 Amer­ican Community Survey 1-Year Estim­ates, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/geographic-mobil­ity/state-to-state-migra­tion.html.

Notably, North Caro­lina had the third-highest level of domestic in-migra­tion of all states, behind only Flor­ida and Texas. People have moved to the state from U.S. cities includ­ing New York, Atlanta, Wash­ing­ton, Miami, Phil­adelphia, and Chicago. foot­note6_y9ei99b 6 U.S. Census Bureau, “Metro Area-to-Metro Area Migra­tion Flows,” from the 2018 Amer­ican Community Survey 5-Year Estim­ates, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2018/demo/geographic-mobil­ity/metro-to-metro-migra­tion.html.  As a result, the state’s popu­la­tion change since 2010 has been mostly driven by growth of the adult popu­la­tion, with many coming to metro Char­lotte and the Research Triangle as college students, academ­ics, or profes­sion­als. Others move to North Caro­lina for retire­ment, seek­ing to be closer to their adult chil­dren or attrac­ted by the mild climate and compar­at­ively afford­able real estate prices. foot­note7_gq5lmtw 7 Gary D. Robertson, “Popu­la­tion Growth Gives North Caro­lina a 14th US House Seat,” Asso­ci­ated Press, April 26, 2021 https://apnews.com/article/census-2020-north-caro­lina-govern­ment-and-polit­ics-224115e6f12d0c44c464a18ff­bed­f7c5.

The state’s substan­tial popu­la­tion growth was not distrib­uted equally across racial and ethnic groups. Increases among Black, Latino, Asian, and multiracial North Carolini­ans repres­en­ted 88 percent of over­all growth. The Latino and Asian popu­la­tions grew faster than others, collect­ively account­ing for 50 percent of the total growth despite making up just 14 percent of the state’s over­all popu­la­tion. The white and Black popu­la­tions grew more slowly over the past decade, with each respons­ible for about 10 percent of the state’s over­all gains. Still, they remain the two biggest demo­graphic groups in abso­lute terms.

This vari­able growth across racial and ethnic groups has changed the over­all demo­graphic break­down of the state. Latino communit­ies have grown to roughly 11 percent of the popu­la­tion, a share that is consequen­tial for redis­trict­ing. Mean­while, the white popu­la­tion in North Caro­lina has dropped signi­fic­antly, to 60 percent of the total, and the Black popu­la­tion has decreased modestly, to 20 percent.

New stat­ist­ical meas­ures compiled by the Census Bureau further under­score North Caro­lin­a’s racial and ethnic diversity. There is now a 57.9 percent chance that two people chosen at random in North Caro­lina would be from differ­ent racial or ethnic groups, up from 52.1 percent in 2010. foot­note8_bzsr0jb 8 North Caro­lina ranked 19th among all states for diversity in both 2010 and 2020. U.S. Census Bureau, “Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the United States: 2010 Census and 2020 Census,” August 12, 2021, https://www.census.gov/library/visu­al­iz­a­tions/inter­act­ive/racial-and-ethnic-diversity-in-the-united-states-2010-and-2020-census.html.

Because North Caro­lin­a’s popu­la­tion growth is largely concen­trated in urban and suburban geographic pock­ets, these areas have the popu­la­tion to support more districts. Indeed, over the last decade, many rural counties saw their popu­la­tion numbers fall or hold steady. Among areas that lost resid­ents, 23 rural counties saw net popu­la­tion decreases of over 1,000 people. Mean­while, areas around greater Greens­boro saw healthy increases, and the popu­la­tions of metro Char­lotte and the Research Triangle boomed.

Collect­ively, metro Char­lotte and the Research Triangle added nearly 740,000 people, account­ing for just over 80 percent of North Caro­lin­a’s total popu­la­tion growth over the decade. By the numbers, these fast-grow­ing areas should pull almost two state senate districts, more than four state house districts, and nearly a full congres­sional district from regions of the state where the popu­la­tion has shrunk or stag­nated. foot­note9_21gm­dmb 9 Based on popu­la­tion growth between 2010 and 2020, metro Char­lotte counties should be afforded an addi­tional 75 percent of a state senate district, 1.8 state house districts, and 43 percent of a congres­sional district. Research Triangle counties should be afforded an addi­tional 1.1 state senate districts, more than 2.5 state house districts, and 48 percent of a congres­sional district.

Regional Analysis

Taking a closer look at counties in metro Char­lotte and the Research Triangle puts a finer point on the statewide trends. Unsur­pris­ingly, the growth of Black, Latino, Asian, and multiracial communit­ies has exceeded that of the white popu­la­tion in these burgeon­ing regions, now home to more than 40 percent of North Carolini­ans.

Change in Percentage Nonwhite in Charlotte Metro Area 2010-2020

A major trend of the last decade is the rapid growth of Black, Asian, Latino, and multiracial communit­ies in suburbs of Char­lotte and adja­cent exurban counties. The region has seen 45 percent of the state’s Black popu­la­tion growth, 37 percent of its Asian growth, 32 percent of its Latino growth, and 24 percent of its multiracial growth. The above map, which shows change in the nonwhite share of the popu­la­tion by census tract from 2010 to 2020, reveals how metro Char­lotte has grown more diverse outside of its urban center over the past decade.

Change in Percentage Nonwhite in Research Triangle 2010-2020

Like metro Char­lotte, the Research Triangle, which includes the cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, also hosts a large portion of North Caro­lin­a’s grow­ing nonwhite communit­ies. Indeed, 24 percent of the state’s Black popu­la­tion growth, 44 percent of its Asian growth, 26 percent of its Latino growth, and 22 percent of its multiracial growth is concen­trated here. The suburban and exurban areas border­ing both Mecklen­burg and Wake Counties saw strong popu­la­tion increases in the latter years of the 2010s, after exper­i­en­cing stag­na­tion or decline in the wake of the 2008 reces­sion. foot­note10_bu554xb 10 Robertson, “Popu­la­tion Growth Gives North Caro­lina a 14th US House Seat.”

Many of those coming to metro Char­lotte and the Research Triangle are Black young profes­sion­als or retir­ees who are part of the reverse Great Migra­tion — a return to the South by the descend­ants of Black people who fled discrim­in­a­tion to pursue oppor­tun­it­ies in other parts of the coun­try. foot­note11_m94s36s 11 Tim Spears, “North Caro­lina Bene­fits from Reverse Great Migra­tion,” Spec­trum News 1, March 11, 2021, https://spec­trum­loc­al­news.com/nc/char­lotte/news/2021/03/11/north-caro­lina-bene­fits-from-reverse-great-migra­tion; Greg Toppo and Paul Over­berg, “After Nearly 100 Years, Great Migra­tion Begins Reversal,” USA Today, updated March 18, 2015, https://www.usat­oday.com/story/news/nation/2015/02/02/census-great-migra­tion-reversal/21818127/; and “Why Some Black Millen­ni­als Are Moving South,” WBUR, August 8, 2017, https://www.wbur.org/here­and­now/2017/08/08/black-millen­ni­als-moving-south.  North Caro­lina now draws Black college gradu­ates and has become the third most popu­lar state for Black retir­ees, behind only Flor­ida and Geor­gia.

Immig­ra­tion has also been a signi­fic­ant driver of growth in metro Char­lotte and the Research Triangle. For example, as of 2019, over 15 percent of Mecklen­burg County resid­ents were born in another coun­try, with 5 percent of resid­ents having come to the United States since 2010. foot­note12_6pu9rei 12 U.S. Census Bureau, “Foreign Born Data Tables,” from the 2019 Amer­ican Community Survey 5-Year Estim­ates, https://www.census.gov/topics/popu­la­tion/foreign-born/data/tables/acs-tables.html.  These domestic and inter­na­tional migra­tion patterns have contrib­uted to the growth of nonwhite popu­la­tions in metro Char­lotte and the Research Triangle.

These demo­graphic trends have had polit­ical consequences. At the local level since 2017, Char­lotte elec­ted its first Black woman mayor, Durham elec­ted its first Latina city coun­cil member, and Cary, a town in Wake County, elec­ted its first Asian woman to its town coun­cil. foot­note13_pcq82e9 13 Brandon Carter, “Char­lotte, N.C., Elects Its First Female African Amer­ican Mayor,” The Hill, Novem­ber 7, 2017, https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-brief­ing-room/news/359315-char­lotte-elects-its-first-female-african-amer­ican-mayor; Dawn Baumgart­ner Vaughan, “New Durham City Coun­cil Member Is 1st Latina,” Herald Sun, Janu­ary 17, 2018, https://www.herald­sun.com/news/local/counties/durham-county/article194985904.html; and Amber Keister, “Meet Ya Liu,” Cary Magazine, July 13, 2020, https://www.carymagazine.com/features/meet-ya-liu/.  Black sher­iffs were elec­ted in each of North Caro­lin­a’s seven largest counties in 2018, and in another, Pitt County, a Black woman was elec­ted sher­iff — a first for the state. foot­note14_li0oyw2 14 Joe Killian, “Black Sher­iffs Make History in Sweep of Seven Largest NC Counties,” NC Policy Watch, Novem­ber 8, 2018, http://www.ncpoli­cy­watch.com/2018/11/08/black-sher­iffs-make-history-in-sweep-of-seven-largest-nc-counties/.  There have also been firsts for state govern­ment. In 2020, Alamance County elec­ted the first Latino Demo­crat to serve in the North Caro­lina General Assembly. foot­note15_wuqw­m6r 15 Eliza­beth Pattman, “Ricky Hurtado Becomes First Latino Demo­crat Elec­ted to N.C. General Assembly,” Times-News (Burl­ing­ton, NC), Novem­ber 19, 2020, https://www.thet­imes­news.com/story/news/local/2020/11/19/ricky-hurtado-first-latino-demo­crat-nc-general-assembly/6338135002/.

These successes have coin­cided with organ­izers’ recent efforts to turn out Latino and Asian voters, who have not tradi­tion­ally voted at the same rates as their Black and white coun­ter­parts. foot­note16_ulggkcr 16 Brittny Mejia, “Can Demo­crats Turn North Caro­lina Blue? Lati­nos May Hold the Answer,” Los Angeles Times, Octo­ber 12, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/polit­ics/story/2020–10–12/latino-vote-north-caro­lina-pres­id­en­tial-battle­ground; and Chris Kromm, “Ener­gized Asian-Amer­ican Voters Could Play Key Role in N.C. Elec­tions,” Facing South, Octo­ber 26, 2018, https://www.facing­south.org/2018/10/ener­gized-asian-amer­ican-voters-could-play-key-role-nc-elec­tions.  As the Latino and Asian communit­ies continue their rapid growth and the Black popu­la­tion remains a signi­fic­ant pres­ence, communit­ies of color in North Caro­lina have numbers to command more repres­ent­a­tion. But this grow­ing polit­ical power could meet with back­lash and discrim­in­at­ory district­ing.

Conclu­sion

North Caro­lin­a’s popu­la­tion has under­gone a profound evol­u­tion over the last decade. Whether redis­trict­ing will account for this signi­fic­ant popu­la­tion growth and diver­si­fic­a­tion, espe­cially in metro Char­lotte and the Research Triangle, will be key to under­stand­ing the elect­oral land­scape in North Caro­lina.

 

End Notes