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Interactive: Examining North Carolina’s Political Leanings

6 min read


North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes are key for each of the candidates in the upcoming presidential election. It is one of the swing states and political analysts simply don’t know where its votes will go. The state has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1972 except in 1976 and 2008. The race in 2008 was incredibly close with Obama winning 50% of the vote and McCain winning 49% of the vote. Analysts expect a similarly close election this year.

The map and data below tell the story of the demographic and political makeup of the North Carolina voters prior to the election. What will ultimately sway the voters in this state? What do we know about them? We’ll be sure to check back after Nov. 6 to see what the election results reveal.

General Population Statistics

North Carolina is known as the “Tar Heel State,” and has a population of just over 9.7 million people. Its population is just slightly less diverse than the total U.S. population, though its make-up is not identical. Esri, the world’s leader in geographic information systems (GIS), created a proprietary Diversity Index that measures diversity on a scale of 0 to 100. The Diversity Index is defined as the likelihood that two people, selected at random from the same area, would belong to a different race or ethnic group. The Diversity Index for North Carolina is 55.2. This compares to a U.S. Diversity Index of 61. The diversity in North Carolina is primarily due to the Black population. 20.6% of adults in North Carolina identify themselves as Black. Just 6.8% of adults in North Carolina identify themselves as Hispanic.

Here are some key demographic statistics about North Carolina:

Demographic Variable

North Carolina


2011 Median Age



2010 % Male / % Female



2011 Median Household Income



% Hispanic 18+ Population



% Black 18+ Population



2010 Median Home Value

$ 132,772


Sources: Esri 2011/2016 Updated Demographics, U.S. Census

Esri provides Market Potential data that includes a Market Potential Index (MPI). The Index measures the probability that adults or households in a specific area will exhibit certain consumer behaviors compared to the U.S. average. The Index is tabulated to represent a value of 100 as the overall demand for the U.S. This Index shows that the residents of North Carolina are more conservative overall than the average American but there is a portion of the population who considers themselves somewhat liberal.

Market Potential Variable


Consider self very conservative


Consider self somewhat conservative


Consider self middle of the road


Consider self somewhat liberal


Consider self very liberal


Sources: Esri, GfK MRI

A resident of North Carolina is 7% more likely than the average American to consider himself very conservative or somewhat conservative. A resident of North Carolina is 12% less likely than the average American to consider himself somewhat liberal and 13% less likely than the average American to consider himself very liberal.

North Carolina Politics Market Potential Index

Click on image to view interactive map.

Where people live in North Carolina does partially seem to alter their political leanings. Areas around the larger cities such as Winston-Salem and Raleigh tend to lean liberal. Overall, most of the ZIP codes have more people that lean conservative.

For Democrats, it is important to know that the ZIP code with the highest likelihood of very liberal voters is 28202 – located in Charlotte. The Index for someone who considers himself very liberal is 300 – meaning a resident there is 3 times more likely to consider himself more liberal than the average American. For Republicans, the most conservative ZIP code in North Carolina is 28129 – which is Oakboro, population 5,967 in 2011, located east of Charlotte. The Index for very conservative people there is 141, meaning a resident is 1.41 times more likely than the average American to consider himself very conservative.

Tapestry Segmentation Classifies North Carolina Neighborhoods

Esri also developed the Tapestry Segmentation system that classifies U.S. residential neighborhoods into 65 unique market segments based on socioeconomic and demographic characteristics. The top Tapestry segments for North Carolina are:

Tapestry Segment

% Adults

Midland Crowd


Southern Satellites


Up and Coming Families


Rooted Rural




The most dominant Tapestry segment in North Carolina is Midland Crowd. In these neighborhoods, sixty-two percent of the households are married couple families; half of them have children. Twenty percent of the households are singles who live alone. The median age of 37.9 years and the median household income is $47,544. Most income is earned from wages and salaries; however, self-employment ventures are slightly higher for this segment than the national average.

Map of North Carolina by Tapestry Segment

Click on image to enlarge map.










A key factor in the upcoming election is unemployment. This is a key figure that voters and analysts have been watching carefully. It has a great impact on the economy as well as affecting many people personally. The unemployment rate not only varies by state, but also by county. When Barack Obama was sworn in as U.S. President in January 2009, North Carolina had an unemployment rate of 9.0 percent, which was higher than the national number of 7.8 percent. In August 2012 (the latest figures available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for individual states), that number had increased to 9.7 percent compared to 8.1 percent nationally. Of course, the rate for each county in North Carolina varies based on its individual situation.

North Carolina Unemployment Change – January 2009 – August 2012

Click on image to enlarge map. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics









A little over half of the counties in North Carolina have lower unemployment rates now than when Obama took over as president. The county with the largest decrease in unemployment was Dare County, located in eastern North Carolina along the coast. Its unemployment rate decreased 8.4 percentage points from 16.3% in January 2009 to 7.9% in August 2012.

The county with the largest increase in unemployment was Cumberland County, which is in the middle of the state and includes the town of Fayetteville and the Fort Bragg military base. Its unemployment rate increased 3.2 percentage points from 8.2% to 11.4% from January 2009 and August 2012.

Why Does This Matter?

Understanding the types of people who live in North Carolina can help Barack Obama and Mitt Romney target their campaigns and even messaging as they campaign around the state. Knowing what the local issues are, what the demographic make-up of an area is, what the political leanings are of an area, where unemployment is high or low, where their likely constituents live, or knowing what types of activities they participate in can help them find their supporters – at a very local level. It can help them choose where to have rallies, distribute fliers, or where to focus robo calls. It can help them be in a better position to win an election.

More information about Esri’s data can be found at or to learn more about Esri in general, go to

Pam Allison is a digital media, marketing strategist, and location intelligence consultant. You can visit her blog at