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Newcomers To U.S. South Mark Shift In Regional Politics


One of the big questions about this presidential election is whether Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton could create a new electoral map. Demographic changes in Southern states like Georgia and North Carolina and in Rust Belt states like Ohio could change the way these states fall politically. NPR's Asma Khalid covers the intersection of demographics and politics. She's here in the studio. Hey there, Asma.


CORNISH: Now, I hear the term New South being used now in a very different way, right? How does it apply to this new map?

KHALID: So in my mind, the New South is really an economic term, and it describes states like Georgia and North Carolina. These are two states where the population has exploded in the last few decades. And a lot of this growth is because both of these states have urban centers with a lot of diverse career opportunities.

Both North Carolina and Georgia are attracting younger people, more educated folks and more people of color. And in fact, if you look at census data, you'll see that more people moved to the South than any other region of the country last year.

CORNISH: So Georgia in North Carolina - popular places to move. Are they in play politically?

KHALID: So yes, I would say that they potentially are in play. And that's partly because the people that are moving to the area are - a lot of them are from New England, the Midwest and New York in particular. And when they're moving, they're bringing, you know, a different cultural attitude. There's this one town in North Carolina called Cary - C-A-R-Y. And the joke there is that it's nicknamed Containment Area For Relocated Yankees - you know, college-educated folks moving to the South for jobs.

I spoke with Rebecca Tippet. She's the director of Carolina Demography. It's this research firm based at UNC Chapel Hill. And she told me that all of these new people are also bringing new political attitudes.

REBECCA TIPPET: I've heard somebody joke that, you know, Republicans from New England come down and realize that they're actually a Democrat in North Carolina.

TIPPET: And Tippet also pointed out that there are a number of African-Americans coming back to the South. You know, if you look at the years after the civil rights movement - '60s and '70s - you actually had a lot of African-Americans who were born in North Carolina who were living up in states like New York.

And now you have some of those people's kids and grandkids who are moving back to North Carolina. So all of this is to say the groups moving to North Carolina and Georgia seem more likely to vote Democrat.

CORNISH: You also mentioned college degrees earlier. Talk about how that's affecting things.

KHALID: So when you look at census data, you'll see that more people with a bachelor's degree moved to the South than any other region of the country last year. Recently, you know, we've seen a few polls that suggest Hillary Clinton may have a lead in Georgia, and that's largely because of the white, college-educated population, particularly white women who seem to be leaning toward Clinton.

The other thing to keep in mind is that some of the Southern states like Georgia are places where white voters chose John McCain over Barack Obama by 50 points in 2008. So Clinton just has a lot more room to grow in that area. That's not necessarily the case in some of the Midwest industrial states.

CORNISH: So talk a little bit more about those industrial states. We always hear come election time about Ohio and Pennsylvania. What are you actually seeing there that could indicate a shift in presidential politics?

KHALID: Well, those states have voted Democrat the last few election cycles, but when you look at a map of migration patterns in the last half century, it's mind-boggling. About three quarters of people living in Ohio today were born there. In fact, last year the Midwest actually lost more people than any other region. They just left.

Ohio and Pennsylvania are actually experiencing some of the exact opposite trends that we're seeing in the South. The economy is not as robust, and there aren't as many job options. There's also a large white, working-class population in both of these states, and that's why we're seeing Trump make a play for those populations - you know, places where issues like trade and trade deals resonate.

But you know, whether this is a one-off election cycle or the beginning of a new map - I think it's hard to say. But what I can tell you, Audie, is that these demographic trends - they do not seem to be reversing.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Asma Khalid. Thanks so much.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.