A comprehensive review of North Carolina government and politics provides an opportunity to identify and reflect on where the state has been and where it is headed. Although our approach in examining the state's development has not been primarily historical, we may conclude from this analysis that a new North Carolina has emerged since the 1950s. North Carolina is becoming a pluralist state. This new character is the product of the state's political culture, which combines traditionalistic and moralistic values, an increasingly diverse population with a greater variety of interests mobilized as active participants in the society, and a transformed and more complex economy. All these developments have combined to produce or contribute to a politically pluralistic state.
Much of the state's political history reveals a paternalistic, self-perpetuating elite that used government as a means to maintain control of the society and economy and to achieve group benefits. Alongside this pattern of traditionalism, however, is evidence of a level of popular participation and popular control of government that reflects moralistic values. For example, a large number of public offices have been subject to popular elections, and numerous and meaningful restraints have qualified the authority invested in the executive and legislative branches of government. Although electoral participation in North Carolina was comparatively limited during the first half of the twentieth century, the state's electorate included a greater number of African Americans and a higher rate of overall participation than in other southern states. Additionally, political competition has shifted from being conducted through factions of the majority Democratic party to a more intense two-party system in which issue debates are more frequent and more significant.