The Washington Post

Attention, Thom Tillis: North Carolina’s “traditional” population is growing, too.

North Carolina Senate candidate Thom Tillis told the Carolina Business Review that the "traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable. It's not growing." He was drawing a contrast to the black and Latino populations, which are growing.  While it's pretty clearly a political mistake to appear to refer to white voters as a state's "traditional population", Tillis is also wrong on the numbers.

Thom Tillis speaks to supporters at a election night rally in Charlotte, N.C., last May.  (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Here's the commentary, by way of the liberal website Talking Points Memo, which reported the story earlier on Tuesday.

And, here's Tillis' full quote: "The traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable. It's not growing. The African American population is roughly growing but the Hispanic population and the other immigrant populations are growing in significant numbers. We've got to resonate with those future voters."

Tillis' communications director explained the comment to TPM: "'Traditional' North Carolinians refers to North Carolinians who have been here for a few generations. A lot of the state's recent population growth is from people who move from other states to live, work, and settle down in North Carolina. Thom Tillis, for example."

Given Tillis' actual words, that explanation doesn't make much sense. If "traditional" means "people who have been in North Carolina a long time," of course that population isn't growing. Without readily available time machines, it's hard to create new long-term residents of a state.

It seems more likely that Tillis misspoke in a cumbersome way. But he's wrong on the data, too, as it pertains to North Carolina.

"Traditional" is a vague term with an unclear time frame. So here's how the state's population has looked in each Census since 1790.


That's the white, black and Hispanic percentage of state residents. (Hispanic is not mutually exclusive with white and black, we'll note.) The percentage of the state's population that is black has declined, perhaps thanks to a certain change in American law in the mid-1800s. Or, if the "tradition" is the population of the state since Tillis was born -- in 1960 -- that dynamic has been defined by a declining percentage of whites versus an increase among the state's Latinos.

But that doesn't mean the white population isn't growing. It just isn't growing as fast as the Latino population. Here are the raw numbers for the state's black and white populations over time.


In 1940, the white population of North Carolina was about 2.5 million, the black population was just shy of a million. In 2010, the black population passed two million for the first time -- but the white population neared 6.5 million.

Tillis was reflecting a concern within certain parts of the Republican Party -- that the uptick in the green line in that first graph, the increase in Hispanic voters, threatens the party's future prospects nationally. That point, however, got buried.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
Republicans debated Saturday night. The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
GOP candidates react to Justice Scalia's death
I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish.
Sen. Marco Rubio, attacking Sen. Ted Cruz in Saturday night's very heated GOP debate in South Carolina. Soon after, Cruz went on a tirade in Spanish.
The Fix asks The State's political reporter where the most important region of the state is.
The State's Andy Shain says he could talk about Charleston, which represents a little bit of everything the state has to offer from evangelicals to libertarians, and where Ted Cruz is raising more money than anywhere else. In a twist, Marco Rubio is drawing strong financial support from more socially conservative Upstate. That said, Donald Trump is bursting all the conventional wisdom in the state. So maybe the better answer to this question is, "Wherever Trump is."
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.