The U.S. Census Bureau released their 2014 county population estimates today. They reveal that the trends from past years continue and that the metropolitan counties continue to drive the state’s growth. Following are the ten counties in the state with the highest growth rate in terms of percentage, followed by a brief description of the county, the percentage of the vote Kay Hagan received there in 2014, and the political implications of such growth:

1. Wake
Growth rate, 2010-2014: 10.8%
55% Hagan
Wake is now one million strong and growing. The census estimates show that the county may have passed the million mark even before August 2014, when the milestone was being celebrated. Wake contains the city of Raleigh and also its suburbs, which have grown substantially large. These suburbs include the ‘town’ of Cary, Apex, Wake Forest, Holly Springs, and Fuquay-Varina. The county has an educated populace and the median income is quite high. In the past, growth has favored Democrats, as the new residents appear to be more left-leaning overall. This growth has made it much more difficult for the GOP to win countywide, though redistricting has enhanced the influence of the more Republican-friendly suburbs.

2. Brunswick
Growth rate, 2010-2014: 10.6%
39% Hagan
In the past, Brunswick was fairly impoverished. That has all changed as more and more people discover North Carolina’s coast, and the county has become a retiree destination in recent years. The growth in population has brought about a strong GOP trend, as a substantial bulk of the new population growth comes from affluent retired people. Things could change, but right now Brunswick is Tea Party territory.

3. Harnett
Growth rate, 2010-2014: 10.5%
39% Hagan
Harnett sits between the Triangle and Fayetteville so it has benefited from the growth of both of these urban areas. The area used to be very rural but is getting more suburban. The growth has actually seemed to very gradually diminish Harnett’s Republicanism, at least on the federal level. The Latino population is getting numerous here and increased registration from this group could also enhance the Democrats’ performance here. Regardless, this should be a very GOP-friendly area for the foreseeable future.

4. Mecklenburg
Growth rate, 2010-2014: 10.1%
59% Hagan
The city of Charlotte dominates Mecklenburg’s politics. The growth rate this year hasn’t been as strong as in the past, evidence that people are possibly relocating to the more suburban counties with the recession winding down. A recent survey finds that 1 in 7 Charlotteans are foreign-born. Mecklenburg is no-win territory for Republicans running statewide, except Pat McCrory in 2012. He’ll almost certainly lose here in 2016, though. Growth here continues to benefit Democrats.

5. Hoke
Growth rate, 2010-2014: 9.9%
58% Hagan
A small, rural county in the Sandhills region. Now, increasingly dominated by military personnel and their families living in close proximity to Fort Bragg. Very high minority population. Population is younger here. No real change in the county’s political makeup, which is still overwhelmingly Democratic.

6. Durham
Growth rate, 2010-2014: 9.1%
77% Hagan
Contains Research Triangle Park. High minority population and a growing white liberal population as well. Newcomers to Durham are some of the most left-leaning in the entire state. While Durham has always been very Democratic (except in 1978, when it voted for Jesse Helms, not sure what happened there …), in federal races Democrats win almost 80% of the vote. Most pro-Obama NC county in both 2008 and 2012. Obviously, growth here bad news for GOP.

7. Union
Growth rate, 2010-2014: 8.6%
32% Hagan
The western half of the county is Charlotte exurbia. Then there’s the city of Monroe, with a very large Latino population. The eastern part of the county, bordering Anson County, is still quite rural. Was the fastest-growing county in NC during the 2000s. Growth slowed down considerably in the midst of the recession, but with the economy getting better and gas prices going down, exurban areas like Union are becoming attractive once again. Many newcomers to Union County are not newcomers to North Carolina, but rather folks relocating from Mecklenburg. The newcomers have a Republican tilt.

8. Chatham
Growth rate, 2010-2014: 8.2%
54% Hagan
Chatham is odd in that it’s a rural county that’s fairly liberal/progressive. Voted against Amendment One in 2012. This is due to the influence of Pittsboro, which is a sort of miniature version of Chapel Hill. There are plans for a massive development project called Chatham Park, which would double the county’s population over the next few decades. This rural outpost of the Triangle will probably be an extension of Cary by then.

9. Cabarrus
Growth rate, 2010-2014: 7.8%
39% Hagan
Cabarrus used to be quintessential rural North Carolina, NASCAR country. It still remains that way but suburban Charlotte is encroaching on the county, particularly in places like Harrisburg. While an exurban county, the growth of the African American population here means the trend favors Democrats. Still a strong GOP county and should remain that way for a long time to come.

10. Pender
Growth rate, 2010-2014: 7.8%
38% Hagan
Located north of New Hanover County (Wilmington). Pender is growing because of the same factors taking place in Brunswick: folks discovering NC’s beaches and coming down here to retire. The inland part of the county is agricultural, racially mixed, and struggling economically, resembling most of eastern NC. The coastal part is completely different and is responsible for most of the growth. It’s also solid GOP territory and the growth here favors Republican candidates.

That sums up the political profiles for the ten counties growing the fastest in NC. The Raleigh and Charlotte metros continue to boom, with some smaller areas of growth like along the coast and near Fort Bragg. One should pay attention to these areas because they give a glimpse of what the state might look like in the future.


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