November 11, 2008 Brian Kelsey

Did The Creative Class Win North Carolina For Obama?

I’ve lived in Texas since 2002, but every year around this time my home state of North Carolina is on my mind. College basketball is starting up and I’m pretty sure that UNC’s starting five could hang with one or two NBA teams. There was also an election last week, and North Carolina figured prominently in the national discussion for the first time in a long time. For people interested in these things, home state politics are never far from your mind, regardless of how long it’s been since you’ve lived there.

This blog is about economic development and regionalism, not politics. But, if you’ve been listening to the pundits parse the election results since last Tuesday, it’s not difficult to see the connection, especially in states like North Carolina. The conventional wisdom goes something like this:

1. Technology-led economic development gives regions with large research universities a competitive advantage because they attract world-class talent. The Research Triangle Park has three–Duke, UNC, and N.C. State–within 20 minutes drive time.

2. Talent attracts companies. Talent also attracts more talent. Consult any “best of” list and you’ll find Raleigh-Durham at the top of the rankings. Charlotte, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem are getting their fair share of attention lately as well. Regional branding efforts like the Piedmont Triad Partnership and Charlotte USA are clearly paying off. Pick any hot sector in economic development circles right now and there’s at least one region in North Carolina with a legitimate shot at it.

3. The Creative Class is gaining steam in our increasingly service-based economy, and picking economic development winners in the process. The joke growing up was that CARY, a small suburb west of Raleigh, stood for Containment Area for Relocated Yankees. Be that as it may, look no further for evidence of the region’s popularity among the Creative Class. Cary has grown so fast that the federal government had to change the Metropolitan Statistical Area designation from Raleigh-Durham to Raleigh-Cary.

4. Population growth, fueled by in-migration of the Creative Class to these university-based regions, is changing the demographics of entire states like North Carolina, including how people vote.

5. The Creative Class participates in elections. Obama wins the majority of Creative Class votes.

6. Obama wins North Carolina.

I looked at returns from the North Carolina State Board of Elections and labor market data from the Employment Security Commission to see if I could find any evidence backing what the pundits have been saying. Here’s what I came up with:

Obama received more votes than McCain in 33 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. As in other states, the largest margins of victory for Obama were in urban areas, such as Mecklenburg (Charlotte), Durham, and Wake (Raleigh).

Perhaps the economy had something to do with the outcome, as the pundits suggest, but I couldn’t find much evidence of that in North Carolina. The average unemployment rate as of September was higher in counties where Obama received more votes than McCain (7.2% vs. 6.8%), but the difference was not statistically significant.

Similarly, looking at one-year changes from September 2007 to September 2008, the unemployment rate increased by an average of 2.2 percentage points in counties that Obama won, compared to 2.3 points in counties won by McCain.

Recent employment figures based on place of work are not available yet at the county level. But metropolitan level data show that North Carolina regions voting for Obama added an estimated 31,400 jobs between September 2007 and September 2008 (1.3% growth rate), compared to 7,400 jobs (1.1%) in regions voting for McCain.

Of course, all of this says nothing about how voters perceived the economy and how that may have affected their choices. But I can’t find any data pointing to actual differences in recent economic performance, at least as of September.

Finally, here’s a chart showing the relationship between Obama’s share of the total two-party vote and the Creative Class share of total employment (i.e. number of jobs in occupations classified by Richard Florida as Creative Class divided by total employment in all occupations) in each of the 14 federally-designated metro areas in North Carolina.

Creative Class and Obama Votes in NC

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Comments (5)

  1. David Kelsey

    Mr. Kelsey concludes that the "Creative Class" was an important factor in electing Barack Obama. Before accepting this conclusion, it would be interesting to know if this class voted for Mr. Obama independent of the age groups within the class, or whether there were significant differences in voting behaviors within the class based on age groups. If the latter, then the age of the voters may be a more significant predictive factor than the class as a whole.

  2. I find this very interesting. On my website, I had short post considering that this was the case, but I (regrettably) didn’t do any empirical analysis.

    I’d like to see a regression for these data. I’m working on doing a larger-scale analysis of the Creative Class on the election (my hunch is that the trend you suggest can be found nationally), but I’m having a bit of difficulty deciding on method design.

    Would you be willing to share the raw data used in that chart so I could run some regressions on it?

  3. Brian Kelsey

    Hi Tim, thanks for the feedback. I’ll email the data to you. However, you’ll only get a limited number of observations at the regional level, which is how I decided to organize the data in the chart. We heard a lot about Obama’s performance in urban core areas, but I wanted to see if that trend carried over when you aggregated the votes at the metro level. Let me know what you find–sounds like an interesting project!

  4. Interesting data and analysis! One minor, minor nit: The MSA didn’t change from Raleigh-Durham to Raleigh-Cary; the MSA was split in two, Raleigh-Cary and Durham, with the Durham MSA including Chapel Hill/Carrboro and the rest of the western Triangle.

    A point of Durham pride — we creative classers (as the graph shows!) in Durham/CH are quite happy to be in a separate MSA from the more suburban, staid half of the region. 🙂

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