Friday, February 09, 2007

North Carolina's political regions

North Carolina’s three new regions
Ferrel Guillory, the former newsman who now directs the Program in Southern Politics, Media and Public Life at UNC Chapel Hill sent along a link to a publication that turns our traditional notion of North Carolina’s geography on its ear. (Click on the July 2005 issue, Number 39 in the series, “North Carolina’s Political Geography" -- the third item down.)
For time out of memory we’ve been taught that North Carolina has three principal regions – the mountains of Western N.C., the Piedmont in the central portion and the coastal plain in Eastern N.C.
But based on the gradual concentration of voting strength away from the west and the east in N.C. elections and toward the central region, researchers at UNC describe the state’s political geography as three new groupings:
The Super Eight – the counties with the most votes in the 2004 presidential election, including Mecklenburg, Wake, Guilford, Forsyth, Durham, Buncombe, Cumberland and New Hanover. These counties had 40 percent of the ’04 vote.
The Ex-Urban Rings – the 27 counties that accounted for 35 percent of the vote. “Most are clustered around Charlotte, Raleigh and Durham, Greensboro and Winston-Salem.”
The Country Crowd – the 65 rural counties running along the state’s borders and in the northeast that made up 25 percent of the vote.
These findings in “North Carolina data-net” tell an interesting tale about where Mike Easley and George Bush won in 2004 – and how voting patterns reflect the new political geography. Here’s the link to the program’s home page.


David McKnight said...

Interesting, Professor Betts!

But do the "Super Eight" vote in the same patterns in major state and national election contests in North Carolina?

You might see a "canceling out" of one another with, say, five counties trending or leaning Democratic:

New Hanover

And then these three leaning Republican:


But this is nonetheless an interesting way to look at it. Still, I would advise Charlotte folks interested in learning more about statewide voting trends to study such distinct geographic regions as the Sandhills, the Cape Fear (Southeastern N.C.), the Albemarle (Northeastern N.C.), the Central Piedmont (Davidson, Randolph, Alamance counties), the Western Piedmont (Statesville to Lenoir), the Blue Ridge Northwest (Mt. Airy to West Jefferson) and the "Far West" (Asheville to Murphy) for clues as to how North Carolina may go in any given statewide race.

Meanwhile, you could see "opposite trends" in the 2008 elections, with Sen. Elizabeth Dole pulling in a strong Republican vote while a viable "Down East" Democratic candidate for governor could keep Raleigh's Governor's Mansion on the Democratic side of the street.

Frank Burns said...

I would be interested in seeing who you think will be viable Democrats for Govenor? On the Republican side, rumors say that Mayor McCrory will run. What thinkest thou?

David McKnight said...


Many thanks for your comment. I think that if the various campaigns for governor in North Carolina can succeed in getting out from under the Big Media Tent in Raleigh and start getting some good local coverage out there in other communities across the state from the coast to the mountains, we could have as dandy a race for governor as North Carolina has seen since 1972, when Jim Holshouser of Watauga County narrowly edged Hargrove (Skipper) Bowles of Guilford County to become the Old North State's first Republican governor since the 19th Century.

The Democrats appear to have both an organizational advantage at this early juncture but also a philosophical rut along the side of the cross-state political highway. Two strong candidates who hold important offices, the incumbent lieutenant governor and the state treasurer, appear to have the best "track position" for gaining the Democratic Party nomination next year, but there is a restlessness out there among the people for some new ideas for state government, and if the Democrats spend too much time shadow-boxing for political position and not enough time breaking new ground on important state government issues, then the Republicans may have a great opportunity to send another of their own to the Governor's Mansion on Blount Street in Raleigh.

If the Democrats keep posturing and don't get out there with some bold new initiatives in the Hodges-Sanford-Scott-Hunt tradiiton, then you could see a progressive yet practical Republican follow in the footsteps of Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin right into the Governor's Office in 2009.

Of course, I'm just a fiddle player whereas Jack Betts is a bass player, so he always know more about the rhythm and timing of these "Tar Heel political melodies and harmonies" than I ever will. But my hunch is that a candidate such as Judge Orr on the Republican side could surprise the entire field of gubernatorial hopefuls in the spring and autumn of 2008. Folks want fair-minded state government to make some headway on a range of urgent public issues, and if the Democrats don't watch out, their current tug-of-war for organizational support in the Democratic primary could leave them short on vision and ceative ideas as to how best to meet the challenges of the second decade of North Carolina's 21st Century historical experience.

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