Where Does North Carolina Live?

May 3, 2021
Each grid square on the map above represents 20 square miles, which helps explain the little spikes you see. Can you spot the App State campus?

We’ve crunched the data about North Carolina’s population. Tables and percentages can only tell you so much, so we produced this 3-D density map of our state to demonstrate where most folks live.

One of the pernicious things about gerrymandering is how it prioritizes land over people.

If you’ve ever heard new GOP talking point that “we’re not a democracy, we’re a republic,” this is what they’re talking about. Gerrymandering allows crooked politicians to ignore the will of voters and keep themselves in power. They use tactics like “packing” and “cracking” and lots of other tricks to do so (here’s a good primer on gerrymandering basics if you’re looking for one). This is particularly easy when you have greater population density. When lots of voters who vote similarly are in the same place, it’s pretty easy to dilute their influence by sticking them all in the same district.

It’s not that Democrats all just choose to live in more liberal areas, though. In the real world, vanishingly few people factor in an area’s political lean when choosing a place to live. What’s actually happening is that most of the jobs, housing and opportunities are increasingly clustered in and around major metro areas. Young people move there, as do out-of-state transplants. Anyone who’s ever moved for a job knows how this works. Over time, a combination of demographics – younger, more racially diverse, and higher education – makes those areas drift more Democratic.

All across the country, we’re seeing the growth of cities and suburbs, and a long-term decline in rural population. This map is just a snapshot of North Carolina’s pattern of the same. To be sure, North Carolina’s rural population is large – but it, too, is graying and shrinking. This will continue to have political reverberations for the next several decades. Republicans have clung to power by gerrymandering the maps to entrench their power in rural areas, and seem certain to do that in 2021. It may work for another decade. But until Republicans begin competing meaningfully in North Carolina’s cities and suburbs, it’s a stopgap strategy.

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