Oct 23, 2016 | Jay Sherrill
The Old North State has a complicated political history that has consistently played a role on the national stage, from waiting to ratify the Constitution in 1789 to sparking national controversy with NC House Bill 2 of 2016. However, in recent elections and in elections to come, North Carolina has taken on a more significant role than ever. North Carolina has quickly become one of the bellwether states of American politics, representing national demographic trends and consistently being very close in most elections. While arguing that Florida has more electoral college votes, or that Ohio has been the traditional bellwether, most people undermine North Carolina’s importance in showcasing the inclination of the American people. Demographic trends, close electoral results, and a sizable amount of electoral college votes makes North Carolina the most important swing state in the 2016 election.
First, a close look at North Carolina’s racial makeup and other demographic data exemplifies that North Carolina shares many of the same demographic trends that are being seen across the United States. North Carolina is predominantly non-Hispanic White (63.8%), with a relatively large African American population (22.1%), and a growing Hispanic population (9.1%)(North Carolina QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau) According to NPR’s Perfect State Index, North Carolina ranks 5th in the country for most closely representing the country as a whole across 5 factors: racial makeup, bachelor’s degree education, median age, median household income, and importance of religion (The Perfect State Index). The only states that more closely represent the United States as a whole are (respectively) Illinois, Kansas, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. At this point, many people would hesitate, recognizing Arizona and Pennsylvania as potential swing states and immediately assuming that their importance is greater than North Carolina’s, but that would be to inexplicably ignore the election results of the past two presidential elections.
Of the four states ranking higher than North Carolina in the Perfect State Index, two can quickly be dismissed. Kansas has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1968 (48 years), and there is no doubt that Kansas will vote Republican on November 8th. Illinois has voted Democrat in every presidential election since 1992 (24 years), and will certainly vote Democrat in this year’s election (Historical Presidential Elections). Leaving only Arizona and Pennsylvania, North Carolina can already claim the honor of being one of the most representative and important swing states of the 2016 election and elections to come, yet there is still an argument to be made for North Carolina being the most important swing state of all. Senator John McCain won Arizona by an 8.48% margin over President Obama in 2008 (Arizona 2008 Election Results), while Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney won Arizona by a 9.03% margin in 2012 (2012 Arizona Presidential Results). Meanwhile, President Obama won Pennsylvania by a 10.32% margin in 2008 (Pennsylvania 2008 Election Results) and by a 5.38% margin in 2012 (2012 Pennsylvania Presidential Results). Both states were won by the same party with reasonable margins in the 2008 and 2012 elections, while in comparison, North Carolina saw extremely close election results. President Obama won North Carolina by a 0.32% margin in 2008 (North Carolina 2008 Election Results) and Governor Mitt Romney won North Carolina by a 2.04% margin in 2012 (2012 North Carolina Presidential Results). Considering that both Pennsylvania and Arizona have been predictable in past elections, and that North Carolina is the only state to have significantly close margins in recent elections, North Carolina is the most important of the three swing states.
The implications of North Carolina’s importance are numerous. North Carolina, as already seen in this year’s election, will receive more and more attention from Presidential candidates. North Carolina’s status as a “toss-up” will encourage an increase in political spending in the state, from running television ads to funding large political rallies. North Carolina’s close demographics match to the rest of the United States indicates that the state’s winner in national elections will be more representative of the United States as a whole. Increased importance will result in more presidential and vice-presidential candidates coming from North Carolina, as both Democrats and Republicans seek nationally-appealing candidates that provide an advantage in the battleground state. North Carolina could also make an arguable case for becoming one of the early primary states, claiming to more accurately represent the will of the American people as a country than Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina. North Carolina is the most important swing state in this election, and will continue to be an important swing state in future elections as it continues to model national demographic trends.
As a North Carolinian, I can’t wait to see what the future holds.