Latinos an emerging force in North Carolina politics

By Tom Jensen

On January 1st, 2004 there were8,136 Hispanics registered to vote in North Carolina. Now a little more than five years laterthat number is upto 68,835. That's a more than eightfold increase over that period of time.

Still, those 68,835 Hispanic voters represent only a little more than 1% of theregistered voters in the state. That's considerably less than their 7% share ofthe population in the latest census estimatesfor North Carolina.But it's safe to say their slice of the electorate is going to move that waywith their representation on the voter rolls increasing at a rapid pace.

What impact will that have on North Carolina politics? There still aren't enough Hispanicvoters for the exit polls to have statistically significant data on how theirvotes break down, but in Virginiathey went for Obama 65-34.

Obama was able to win North Carolinabecause black voters turned out at a rate higher than white voters, aremarkable occurrence not likely to be repeated without him at the top of theballot. But the emergence of another strongly Democratic leaning demographicwithin the electorate may ensure the state's competitiveness last year becomesmore the rule than the outlier.

It's also interesting to note that there are eight counties in the state withmore than 2,000 Hispanic voters: Cumberland, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford,Mecklenburg, Onslow, Union, and Wake. Thosealso happen to be seven of the eight counties where Barack Obama made thegreatest percentage gains relative to John Kerry in 2004, and the only one thatdoesn't fit that category, Union, came prettyclose.

The emergence of Hispanics as a powerful voting bloc may prove to be the mostimportant change in North Carolinapolitics over the next 20 years.

Tom Jenson is Communications Director for Public Policy Polling, where a version of this piece originally appeared.