For as long as most people around here can remember, the term “The Great State of Mecklenburg” has been a pejorative many other-area residents of North Carolina use to refer to our perceived attitude that what we think matters more than what they think. (We were right in that, of course!)
However, judging by the latest demographic figures, it looks like the “poison” that has infected us throughout most of the last century is now spreading through the rest of the state. While it’s only making this area more of what we were already becoming - a diverse electorate, not dominated by a homogenous, mostly-White, native-born population — it may, in fact, make the home-grown, North Carolinian voter an endangered species.
That difference in perceived attitude and perspective within Charlotte and Mecklenburg County was usually attributed to the large number of transplanted citizens moving here from other parts of the country. What was usually migrants pursuing employment opportunities in what was seen as an “up-and-coming” region is now becoming a statewide phenomenon.
According to a report just out from UNC’s Program On Public Life, a 2012 presidential election exit poll found that a staggering 48 percent of the voters were born outside of North Carolina. This reflects other data showing 40 percent of North Carolina's current population of 10 million residents was born in another state or country. That’s a striking difference from a century ago when 90 percent of the state's 2.5 million people were native-born.
That trend pales when compared to what’s happening locally, especially to voter registration patterns, as the demographics of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County continue to shift at a rapid pace. How rapid? Between 2003 and 2012, Mecklenburg County’s population jumped more than 215,000 people, more than a 28.5 percent increase, from nearly 754,000 to just shy of 970,000. But as interesting as those numbers might be, and as significant as they are for planners and the business community, it’s the political class who have the most at stake, and who have the biggest shifts to digest.
Between 2004 and 2012, Democratic voter registration in Mecklenburg Country increased almost 70 percent as opposed to that of Republicans, which rose only 18 percent. Unaffiliated registration grew by the greatest percentage, by far - more than 100 percent - but only to a total of 184,000 voters, putting them into a veritable tie with Republicans at 182,000, but still falling far short of the Democrats’ total of 312,000.
And from all accounts, the trends are only accelerating, with Democrats - and especially African-Americans and other minority voters - vastly outpacing others, especially in the city of Charlotte itself. Here’s the current voter registration in Charlotte: Democrats - 260,041; Republicans - 121,112; Unaffiliated - 143,904. And of that Democratic total, some estimates are that 90 percent of those registrations are African-American or other ethnic and minority voters.
The implications of all of this are nothing short of huge, but will not be fully felt state-wide until 2020 at least, given the re-districting that was done following the 2010 elections.
But if you’re a Republican, you can’t rest on your laurels - you know you’re nearly halfway through the decade in which you’re in control of the state government, and all of the wind is at the back of the other side, which may explain at least some of the rationale behind the current dispute over voter registration laws. But the day may be coming when “The Great State of Mecklenburg” gets the last laugh!