The states that will pick the president: The sun belt

Republicans have a much stronger hand in North Carolina, where they control the governorship, commanding majorities in both state legislative chambers, and last fall ousted first-term Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who was elected during Obama’s 2008 breakthrough. Republicans now control both of North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seats. In Florida, after Gov. Rick Scott’s solid reelection last November, Republicans also control the governorship and big majorities in both state legislative chambers. Each party holds one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats. Looking across all three states, Republicans control a clear majority of U.S. House seats–enough for a combined advantage of fully 2-to-1 (35-17).

Florida and Virginia are both shaped heavily by immigration (they rank 4th and 15th, respectively, among states in their share of foreign-born residents). Virginia is more affluent than the two others: its median income ranks it at No. 8 among the states, compared to 39 for Florida and 40 for North Carolina. Over the past year, though, Florida and North Carolina have produced more-vibrant job growth: They trail only Texas and California in the number of new jobs created.

All three states share two other common characteristics that are reordering their political landscapes, at least at the presidential level. One is dynamic population growth. From 2000 to 2013, North Carolina grew its population by 22.3 percent (which ranked it seventh among the states); Florida also grew by 22.3 percent (which placed it eighth); and Virginia by 16.7 percent (good enough for 15th). The other common experience in these three states is dramatic demographic change, particularly growing racial diversity, aging, and shifts in patterns of education and marital status.

The shared political currents coursing through all three of these states include: the growth of a younger, nonwhite population that leans Democratic; a growing and preponderantly white senior population that is tilting more Republican; a blue-collar white population that is also leaning reliably red but universally shrinking in size; and a college-educated white population that is growing and more receptive to Democrats, though still leaning Republican overall. What follows is an exploration of those demographic and electoral dynamics, using the data and projections from the States of Change project.