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Experts: NC’s Shifting Population Makes it a Significant Swing State

Duke scholars discuss voter suppression, changing dynamics

Part of the The Briefing: Election 2020 and Its Aftermath Series
Experts: NC’s Shifting Population Makes it a Significant Swing State
Professors Kerry Haynie and Bob Korstad

North Carolina is changing. It’s more diverse than even just a couple election cycles ago, and people are leaving rural areas and moving to cities and suburbs. This all signals a shift in the state’s voting tendencies, making it a significant swing state in the upcoming presidential election.

With the state poised to begin early voting, two Duke University scholars Wednesday discussed the state’s voter tendencies, changing demographics and crucial voting blocs.

Here are excerpts from the conversation, held via Zoom in a virtual briefing for journalists. Watch the briefing on YouTube.



Kerry Haynie, political science professor

“Between 1984 and 2016, the Democrats only carried the state once. That was Barack Obama in 2008. I think they have a very good chance of carrying the state this election cycle in part due to the state’s changing demographics. The voters of color are becoming a larger share of the electorate.”

“In 2004, Blacks were about 20 percent of the electorate. This time around, people of color will be about 30 percent of the electorate. That’s a tremendous increase in the vote share of people of color in North Carolina.”

“(Republicans) recognize the changing demographics is an advantage for the Democratic Party in the state. So some of the efforts – voter registration changes, ID requirements, making the time for early voting – is a direct response to these changing demographics. We see this not only in North Carolina but throughout the South.”

“We have a large number of colleges and universities in this state and the student vote has been significant and important the last several election cycles. In this pandemic crisis where many of our students are not on campus, I don’t know what that means for the turnout.”



Kerry Haynie

“Some of the folks are not citizens and not eligible to participate. One of the things we know about Latino voters is that it requires outreach. Someone needs to go and ask and convince them to vote. If you don’t make a mobilization effort you don’t get the turnout.”

Robert Korstad, emeritus professor of public policy, history

“The younger Latinx population tend to be, are more likely to be citizens and are more likely to vote. One of the real challenges for the Democrats is how to get those young people involved in the political process.”



Kerry Haynie

“Younger Black folks aren’t as tied to the Democratic Party as their parents. The Democratic Party needs to make the case as to why the Democratic Party should be their party of choice.

“With Latinx voters – they’re up for grabs. On some of the social issues they’re more conservative than mainstream Democrats. But the (Republican) party has done a remarkable job pushing those voters away with some of their stances on immigration and other kinds of issues.”

Robert Korstad

“I think the Democrats are going to have to pursue these voters with particular public policies whether it’s around reductions in the cost of higher education, better schools for their families, raising the minimum wage.”



Robert Korstad

“Voter intimidation, particularly at the polling place, has a long history in North Carolina, certainly going back to the period after the Civil War.”

“Over time, police presence has been off and on. But it’s certainly an intimidating factor and really … doesn’t have any place in the election process unless there’s some kind of real disturbance.”

Kerry Haynie

“I think it’s a double-edged sword in this case. In this particular election cycle when the president has encouraged some supporters, militia types it appears, to go to and watch the process, having police there may be a source of comfort for some voters.”

“It may be that having a police presence favors voters in this case. So it’s a tricky thing this time around.”



Kerry Haynie

“I think it’s clearly suppression. There’s no reason not to have anticipated a large turnout in the middle of a pandemic. Folks want to get in early and avoid the crowds. This is an intentional effort to discourage voters from exercising their right to vote.”

Robert Korstad

“It has largely to do – in a lot of these places – with the number of early voting sites. If you have one or two early voting sites in a community that has thousands of people trying to vote, you’re going to create these long lines.”

“Elections are in the control of states. Whether they put the resources into it, whether they do the kind of planning that makes voting easy and acceptable to people, is the issue. You shouldn’t have to stand in line for 10 hours to cast your ballot. That’s ridiculous.”



Kerry Haynie

“There’s always the potential for fraud, but there’s no evidence of this type of fraud, or very little. It’s a non-issue. There is no fraud. Just because someone said it doesn’t make it so.”

“It’s another effort to muddy the waters, to make it less likely that people will come out and vote and trust the system.”

“We’ve been doing this forever in this country in one way or another.”



Robert Korstad

“It’s really important who controls the General Assembly and draws the new maps. There’s a lot of work to do. The representation among Republicans in the General Assembly and Congress is way out of line with the numbers they get for votes.”

“We have the skills and technology now to really do some fair redistricting. So the voting process and representation is more equitable. I think this is a real opportunity to maybe put this whole partisanship of redistricting aside and really get on with the process of creating a more Democratic society.”



Kerry Haynie

“I think the polls are fairly accurate. I look at the trend lines. And I look at the candidates’ behavior. I would watch where the candidates go and don’t go, along with the polls, to get a sense of where the race is.”

Robert Korstad

“I think polls are interesting to watch. Certainly the sophistication of polling is pretty high these days. But a lot of it depends on turnout, on last-minute changes. There’s so many people voting early now, I think the polls are possibly going to be more true this year than in the past.”

“There’s not going to be as much switching at the last minute.”



Kerry Haynie

“I think it’s becoming clearer, the divide. There’s a definite trend of the rural areas of North Carolina becoming less important because of population changes. Those areas are becoming less populous. The folks who are there are becoming older, whiter, Republican voters by and large. The power is moving to the suburban parts of North Carolina. The Charlotte suburbs, the Raleigh/Durham suburbs, the Triad to some extent. This divide is becoming clearer and seems to be a Democratic Party advantage at the moment given who’s moving to these locations.”

“It makes North Carolina an interesting state, a state that’s up for grabs. I think this cycle around it’s an advantage for the Democrats.”

Robert Korstad

“There are a lot of low-income voters, white and people of color, in rural areas.”

“Rural North Carolinians have been hurt probably more than anybody else by the policies of the Trump administration. It always is striking to me to drive through rural areas and see signs supporting Trump when you know that, whether it’s health policy, or education policy or economic policy, those people are really suffering. They’re not the ones getting billion-dollar buyouts like Trump gave out to large farmers in the Midwest yesterday.”

“I think the future of small town and rural North Carolina is with new immigrants, whether those (who) come from Latin America, Central America, from Mexico or whether they come from the Middle East or other places. We need re-population in these places. Those people there running the stores, who own the banks and own farmland should be working to get people into those places, trying to create jobs, trying to create some economic activity.”



Robert Korstad

“It’s particularly applied to rural places that have large African American populations, particularly in eastern North Carolina.”

“The real challenge in a lot of these places is being able to register and be able to get to vote. In these rural areas where they’re spread out, a lot of people don’t have cars, there’s not a lot of public transportation, and there’s only a couple of polling sites in a county.”

“The voter suppression in those places right now is really whether people can get to the polls and actually vote.”


The Experts:

Kerry Haynie
Kerry Haynie is an associate professor of political science and African & African American studies. He directs Duke’s Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Social Sciences. Haynie researches race and ethnic politics, legislative processes, state and Southern politics, and comparative urban politics.

Robert Korstad
Robert Korstad is emeritus professor of public policy and history at Duke. He studies labor history, African American history and contemporary social policy. He co-authored the new book, “Fragile Democracy: The Struggle Over Race and Voting Rights in North Carolina.”


Duke experts on a variety of topics related to the 2020 election can be found here.