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September 2004
Are We Becoming a Purple State?

   We will have to wait until November 2nd to see if North Carolina has become a purple state. That is when voters go to the polls to cast their ballots during the General Election of 2004. Several factors determine whether or not any particular state becomes a “purple” state. A “purple” state is also known as a “swing” state or one that casts swing votes in the U. S. Electoral College. Such states are targets of both political parties in Presidential elections.

   The significance of “purple” or “swing” states is substantially the result of the 2000 Presidential race between George Bush and Al Gore. While Al Gore received a majority of the votes cast nationwide (most often referred to as the “popular vote”), George Bush received a majority of the electoral votes (based on his winning  the popular vote in enough states that then cast their entire slate of electoral votes for him). As it happens, only two states – Maine and Nebraska –  choose to operate differently from the winner-take-all standard of the other 48 states. They calculate their distribution of electoral votes based upon pluralities in their congressional districts.

   Since it is the electoral votes that win the election, the national campaigns are only interested in electoral votes and tend to ignore states that they believe they will win easily. While many are suggesting that North Carolina will automatically support George Bush, others say that, with John Edwards on the ticket with John Kerry, North Carolina might provide a majority to the Democrats resulting in its total of 15 electoral votes for John Kerry.

   Those who track politics and actually look at voting totals certainly know that North Carolina has become more Republican over the last thirty years. According to the organization NC Free, North Carolina voters were 72.6 percent Democratic, 22.6 percent Republican and 3.9 percent Independent in 1974. In 2000, Democrats were 50.7 percent, Republicans were 33.8 percent and independents were 15.5 percent of registered voters. There were 5,122,123 registered voters in 2000. George Bush received 1,631,163 votes and Al Gore received 1,257,692 votes in that year. With 56 percent of the popular vote going to George Bush, he received all of the North Carolina electors.

   However, although the state went Republican in the Presidential election, it voted in a Democratic governor as Mike Easley won with 52 percent of the vote and Republican Richard Vinroot received only 46 percent of the vote. This dichotomy between voting Republican for one office and Democratic for another is not uncommon for North Carolina voters, who tend to split their tickets regularly.

   In 2004, Democrats include 47.79 percent of registered voters and Republicans total about 38.48 percent. Independents or unaffiliated voters make up 17.73 percent of registered voters. With over 5 million registered voters, we can expect over 3 million votes to be cast in this election. Presidential and gubernatorial elections usually cause more registered voters to actually vote than in elections for less high-profile positions. To win in the upcoming election, any candidate must win a plurality of those votes cast. Consequently, it will take at least 1,500,001 votes to win North Carolina’s now 15 electoral votes in 2004. (We have gained one elector since 2000 as a result of our growth in population.)

   North Carolina is changing. It is not simply conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, or special interest versus special interest. While Democratic voters have fallen from 72 percent to 47 percent of registered voters and Republicans have grown from 22 percent to 38 percent of registered voters, those who are unaffiliated have also grown from 4 percent to nearly 18 percent.

   We are all red, white and blue Americans regardless of our political affiliations or lack thereof. Congratulate those who vote for making time in their lives to choose the direction of our government and its leadership. Even though we have been seen as a “red” state, we seem to still have “blue” inclinations as well. As a mix of red and blue, we can maintain a healthy and civil exchange of ideas that will make us even more competitive nationally and internationally. From our growth to date and prospects for the future, I suspect we are destined to be “purple” for quite some time.
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