I see pretty clear signs of NC bluing out, its urban areas are growing, its rural areas mostly are not. Its urban areas (which I include the suburbs in that) are trending in the Dems direction.
One of the big things that happened with Trump in 2020 is he hit really amazing turnout levels in rural counties all across the country. Almost everywhere this was always to his advantage. PA is basically the only outlier in a place where some of the more rural counties, while they didn’t go for Biden, Trump didn’t always improve his margin in them like he had in surrounding states.
However Trump produced voters, not human beings, if that makes sense. If you had taken a snapshot of Trump’s 2020 performance in the suburbs of Columbus and Cincinnati, you would assume given any knowledge at all of Ohio’s political history, Trump had lost Ohio by 2-3 points. But instead, Trump actually slightly gained ground in the inner cities of Cleveland and Cincinnati (and basically stayed the same in Columbus), and he gained MASSIVE ground in all of Ohio’s rural counties. Specifically not just in margin, but in generating turnout. Lots of Appalachian Ohio saw turnout numbers that we basically have never seen before. This was unusual for Ohio, and it was unusual for Ohio that a candidate (Biden) could do so well in the traditionally moderate suburbs of the major cities, but lose such a huge margin in the rural areas.
That represents somewhat how Trump was reshuffling traditional demographic alliances.
But what Trump didn’t do is increase the population of places like Gallia County or Darke County OH. In fact, almost every county in Ohio that meets the definition of a “rural county” is losing population as per the most recent census estimates. The only places gaining population in Ohio are actually associated with the three major cities. Now, Ohio right now has become a fairly conservative place. But this story it is telling, is being told all over the country. In deep red states and deep blue ones, and all the ones in between–the places that are growing are now much more closely associated with Democrats, and the places where population is stagnant or declining are much more closely associated with Republicans. None of this is destiny, but it’s not a good set of conditions for the future of the Republican party, and tying back specifically to North Carolina, it’s fairly easy to see, unless things change (and they could), North Carolina heading in a very similar direction to Virginia.
Virginia had a super charger making its process much, much faster–the seat of the Federal government and the hyper-economically active area of Northern Virginia, that sucks in urban, educated professionals from all around the country. North Carolina has nothing like that, but only a couple other places in the country do. But North Carolina does have smaller versions of that–in the Research Triangle, Charlotte, and even places like Winston-Salem.
FWIW I used the term “rural county” fairly specifically, and I wanted to point out people often miss things a bit because of it. Politics and the census often define urban, suburban, and rural in ways that don’t match public perception. For example, Midland county Texas has 130,000 people. Only about 30,000 of them would be considered “rural” population wise by the census, demographers, or even most political pundits.
If Republicans really only had success in truly rural census tracts, they’d have maybe 95 House seats and 35 Senate seats, and wouldn’t have won the White House anytime recently. Instead a lot of GOP votes come from what I have taken to calling “rural counties.” Midland County is a good example. Midland isn’t part of a major metro area by most people’s reckoning (that gets complex because some demographers consider Midland a metropolitan area), but let’s bet clear–a county centered on a city of around 100,000 isn’t what most of the “public” thinks about in terms of major metro areas. When people think major metros they’re thinking the 50 largest metro areas of the country, or so, and the major cities that anchor them. Midland isn’t one of those.
But 110,000 people is a good chunk of people in Midland proper, and the other 20-25,000 who live in the rural parts of that county, add up too. This county cast like 45,000 ballots for Trump and only 12,000 for Joe Biden. So an overwhelming people who live in the city of Midland, voted for Trump.
The larger point is while they may not be rural, small towns and cities in predominantly rural areas, for voting purposes, track more rural. Knox County Tennessee is another area that is similar, about 30% of the county lives in Knoxville proper (187,000), and the county itself has 430,000 people. Most of the voters in this county went for Trump. Note that unlike Midland, Knoxville proper is a tad more blue, although for a city of its size, a lot of people still voted for Trump. Knox has similarities to places like Midland in that it’s predominantly in a rural area. Contrast to Nashville metro area (pop almost 2 million) and Memphis metro area (1.3m) both of which largely went to Biden.
One reason people who thought Biden could win Texas were off course is they really underestimated the totality of Texans in small cities like Midland. If you added up all the rural farm types on Texas, you don’t get to anything close to a win in that state. But you start adding up basically EVERY mid sized city outside of the mega cities like Austin / Houston / Dallas / El Paso / San Antonio…well Texas is a big state, and has a lot of small cities, the numbers add up when you’re losing the counties that host those smaller cities by 50 points.
Buuut, interestingly in all these examples I’ve given, you see interesting demographic trends. Some counties like this, just like Ohio’s aren’t growing much at all, or are even losing populations. Some actually are growing–Midland County grew by almost 30% in the last decade, Knox county by around 9%. What’s interesting, and I picked these two counties because they are red ‘growth’ counties. Trump did not improve Republican margins in those counties. In fact he lost margin.
He won Midland County by a titanic 56 points in 2020. But Mitt Romney won it by 62 points 8 years prior. Trump won Knox County by 15 points, but Romney won it by 29 points in 2012. This paints to me, a story that population growth has an almost inverse geographical relationship with support for the Republican party. Whether it be in red, purple, or blue areas. The places stagnant or losing population, have increased GOP margins. The places with growth, have decreasing Republican margins. Note that Midland County is interesting as one of the “hearts” of the Texas oil industry, and no doubt a decent chunk of that 29% 10 year population growth that moved to the county are in the oil & gas industry. The fact Trump still lost margin there when compared to Mitt Romney (a losing Presidential candidate who did not enjoy incumbency, running against a much stronger Democrat than Joe Biden), to me says something. Specifically that the GOP’s current posturing is a growth model for the parts of the country that increasingly are ceasing to exist.