When you think of Democratic Party strongholds, cities in North Carolina may not come immediately to mind. But Charlotte is not your ordinary Southern city. Having experienced massive growth over the past couple of decades, Charlotte is the largest city in the state, and among the largest in the nation.
This growth has largely been bolstered by millennials and younger Gen Xers — nearly 75 percent of the population of the city is under 45. It’s also a very racially diverse city — more than a third of the population is African-American, and 20-25 percent belong to other minority groups including Asian-American, Native, and Hispanic. White Caucasians still make up the largest racial group, however, at around 45 percent. Compare this with the early 1970s when the city was two-thirds white and skewed much older as a whole.
It’s these changing demographics that has driven the city further and further to the left, and helped to push North Carolina from a reliable red state to an in play swing state. From 1964- 2008, the state went for the GOP candidate in every presidential election except 1976, and in most cases it wasn’t even close — once by nearly 40 points.
That all changed in 2008, when the Tar Heel State narrowly went for Barack Obama, and then again switching back to Mitt Romney in 2012 by a single percentage point in both cases. In 2016, Donald Trump won by a slightly wider margin, three points, but low voter turnout by voters in both parties in the state leaves the long-term trend of those numbers in either direction up for debate.
It’s also in Charlotte where one of the most controversial issues of the past few years saw one of its largest battles — which public restrooms transgender people may use.
A few years ago, a group of LGBTQ asked the city council to extend anti-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and identity. At the time, the rules only covered sex, religion, race, and national origin. The city was also set to play host to the 2012 Democratic National Convention, so extending protections to LGBTQ citizens seemed like a slam dunk.
But the firestorm that erupted nationwide took the supporters of the bill by surprise, as conservatives and religious fundamentalists suddenly feared that sexual predators would use the rules to have access to restrooms in order to assault women. The question of why they believed sexual predators cared which sign was on the door before committing their crimes or why they were less concerned with boys being assaulted was left unanswered.
Nonetheless, The North Carolina state legislature instituted new rules intended to overturn the city ordinances, which in turn led to a nationwide backlash from both sides, including dueling boycotts by everybody from the NCAA to other municipalities to major businesses. After the initial uproar subsided, many of these boycotts died down, but the national debate continues to rage on.
ese that often sets Charlotte at odds with much of the rest of the state. While Donald Trump narrowly won the state by about three points, Charlotte’s Mecklenburg County preferred Hillary Clinton by a nearly 2-1 margin. Other major metro areas within the state saw similar trends, though only the Durham area (Durham and Orange Counties) saw margins such as these.
The future of Charlotte politics may lie in whether the city can continue to attract younger and minority voters in the face of one of the most politically corrupt Republican legislatures in the nation, even being called the “Illinois of the Right” by some. The state’s electoral process was recently lambasted by the Electoral Integrity Project as being less free than even many third world and developing nations, though the study has been criticized as being somewhat unbalanced.
One thing that isn’t up for debate, however, is that the state’s voting rules were shot down by the Supreme Court as intentionally targeting minorities in order to disenfranchise them. The state has continued to try to sneak rules in to get around the ruling, attempting other restrictions and rules in order to suppress Democratic votes. Additionally, after Democrat Roy Cooper won the 2016 election by a narrow margin, the legislature move swiftly to hobble the gubernatorial office and strip him of any power.
It’s this bald-faced politicking and blatant racketeering that has left the state as a whole with a poor reputation nationwide among both the left and the right. Democrats are upset with the treatment their constituents receive in the state, while national Republicans chafe at being given a bad name by their corrupt brethren in the Tar Heel State.
Over in Charlotte, Democrats are hopeful that they can turn the tide of politics in the state toward their favor. With their successes in putting the state in play in the last three presidential elections, and getting a Democrat into the governor’s mansion, they are on the right track. Their main obstacle will be, as in most states, the state’s internal electoral map that weighs rural areas more heavily when figuring state legislative districts and precincts.
But Charlotte being one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, and Raleigh, Durham, Winston-Salem, Fayetteville and a few of the other larger cities are continuing to attract more and more young people who are hoping to tip the state once more to the left during the upcoming midterm elections and beyond.