NC natives are now outnumbered among voters. What does that mean for Tar Heel politics? | News & Observer

You’d better be careful with the old expression: ‘You ain’t from around here, are you?’ Chances are you are talking about your neighbors, friends and members of your church.

A surprising 43 percent of Tar Heel residents were born out-of-state, according to a recent blog post by the Carolina Population Center at UNC Chapel Hill. And among registered voters who have a birth state listed in state data, people born out-of-state now outnumber native North Carolinians.

But it is not yet clear what that will mean for the future of Tar Heel politics.

The conventional wisdom is that North Carolina is undergoing the same process as Virginia, becoming a more moderate state and moving away from the deep red politics of much of the South.

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But non-natives are less likely to be registered as Democrats and more likely to be unaffiliated than are Tar Heel natives. So we should be cautious about making too many predictions.

There is no question that North Carolina has changed dramatically.

When I started writing about politics, only Arkansas and Mississippi were less homogenous in terms of social, economic and religious diversity than North Carolina, according to a 1973 study by John Sullivan in the Journal of Politics.

In those pre-Sunbelt growth days, you could often tell which county a person was from by their last name.

If you go back a century, only one in 10 North Carolina residents was born out of state — a function of the Tar Heel State having missed the great 19th and 20th century European migrations, as Ferrel Guillory of the Program on Public Life at UNC has written.

But that has dramatically changed as North Carolina became one of the moving van capitals of the country.

Migration into the state has been uneven. The Sunbelt influx has occurred in the major metro areas such as the Triangle and Charlotte, the military areas around Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, and the retirement/resort areas of the coast and the mountains. In 17 counties more than half the residents were born outside the state, according to the Population Center.

But there has been little migration into large swaths of the state — particularly the farm country of Eastern North Carolina and the old textile/furniture belt of the Piedmont and foothills. In 23 counties, fewer than 25 percent of residents were born elsewhere.

Michael Bitzer, a political science and history professor at Catawba College, says the in-migration patterns continue to fuel North Carolina’s urban/rural divide.

The five largest states which non-native residents have moved from are, in order, Florida, Virginia, New York, South Carolina and Georgia, with significant populations also from Pennsylvania, Maryland and California.

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