What one swing state can teach us about political polarization in America

2012, 2016, 2016 Presidential Campaign, North Carolina

via The Washington Post

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Precincts — which can include a few hundred to a few thousand voters — make it easier to spot this urban-vs.-rural disparity. These detailed neighborhood by neighborhood results make it clear how racial and socioeconomic differences play out at the ballot box.

For a window into how this polarization is affecting this year’s election, just look at North Carolina. It’s one of the most coveted battlegrounds in the country — RealClearPolitics puts Donald Trump up by just 0.8 points — and it’s facing a number of other contentious electoral battles. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, a supporter of the highly controversial law requiring transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their birth gender, is in a tight reelection battle. So is Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican with a narrow lead in his reelection contest, according to recent polling; his race could determine which party controls the Senate. And that’s not to mention the controversy surrounding the recently struck down voter ID laws.

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This demographic split has been so stark that the borders between white and minority neighborhoods can often be traced almost perfectly by the line between red and blue precincts. One such place is Charlotte.

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The Raleigh-Durham area, home to three major universities, the Research Triangle and the state government, has grown into the state’s stronghold for Democrats. The party’s presidential margins of victory have shot up since 2000 to be the widest in the state, with Wake County, home to Raleigh, voting for the nationwide winner in each of the past four elections.

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The Greensboro area, which is home to people with a mix of educational levels, will test whether 2016’s unusual political currents will disrupt party loyalties. While dotted with colleges, universities and health-care centers, Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point still have strong links to manufacturing, especially the furniture and textile industries hard hit by the recession and the forces of global trade. It’s an area that’s voted Republican since 2000, though Obama won in 2008 and 2012. But with highly educated white areas leaning Republican in 2012 and Clinton looking strong within that group, the map may change.

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