Friday, March 6, 2009

North Carolina's Expanding Hispanic Vote

On January 1st, 2004 there were 8,136 Hispanics registered to vote in North Carolina. Now a little more than five years later that number is up to 68,835. That's a more than eightfold increase over that period of time.

Still, those 68,835 Hispanic voters represent only a little more than 1% of the registered voters in the state. That's considerably less than their 7% share of the population in the latest census estimates for North Carolina. But it's safe to say their slice of the electorate is going to move that way with their representation on the voter rolls increasing at a rapid pace.

What impact will that have on North Carolina politics? There still aren't enough Hispanic voters for the exit polls to have statistically significant data on how their votes break down, but in Virginia they went for Obama 65-34.

Obama was able to win North Carolina because black voters turned out at a rate higher than white voters, a remarkable occurrence not likely to be repeated without him at the top of the ballot. But the emergence of another strongly Democratic leaning demographic within the electorate may ensure the state's competitiveness last year becomes more the rule than the outlier.

It's also interesting to note that there are eight counties in the state with more than 2,000 Hispanic voters: Cumberland, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg, Onslow, Union, and Wake. Those also happen to be seven of the eight counties where Barack Obama made the greatest percentage gains relative to John Kerry in 2004, and the only one that doesn't fit that category, Union, came pretty close.

The emergence of Hispanics as a powerful voting bloc may prove to be the most important change in North Carolina politics over the next 20 years.

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