Supporters attend a campaign rally with Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and vice-presidental nominee Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) at the J. Douglas Galyon Depot on September 27, 2008 in Greensboro, North Carolina. After participating in the first of three presidential debates yesterday Obama is campaigning through North Carolina with a focus on his strategy for the recent national financial turmoil. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

DURHAMPresident Obama won North Carolina by fewer than 14,000 voters here in 2008, and that was at the height of his popularity.

But one factor that could help the president repeat in North Carolina, where four years ago he was the first Democrat to win here since 1976, is the state’s rapidly shifting demographics. The Durham-based Institute of Southern Studies estimates the non-white part of the electorate (people who are either black, Latino, Asian, bi-racial or don’t identify their race) has grown by five percent since 2008 in North Carolina.

Similarly, Ruy Teixeria, who studies demographics at the Center for American Progress and William Frey, who does the same at the Brookings Institute, estimate the minority share of the vote has gone up by four percentage points since 2008.

Obama won North Carolina by less than one percent in 2008, and he was more popular then among white voters. But if these new minority voters turn out, Obama could win this state again. About 80 percent of non-white voters nationally backed Obama in 2008, and that number was even higher in North Carolina, where Obama won 95 percent of black voters, including nearly all black women, according to exit polls. A similar performance with a larger minority population could lift the president over the top here and virtually guarantee his reelection, as Mitt Romney almost certainly must win North Carolina to get to 270 electoral votes.

The demographic shifts come from growth among several groups. The Institute for Southern Studies estimates the black electorate has increased  by almost two percentage points, Hispanics by about one, and there is a rise in the number of voters who said “other” when asked about their race. This tracks generally with a rapid demographic shift in the state since 2000.

According to U.S. Census figures, the number of Hispanics has more than doubled in North Carolina, from fewer than 400,000 in 2000 to more than 800,000 now, while the state’s black population is now more than two million. (About 9.5 million people live in North Carolina)

Related: The black vote in North Carolina

Of the 1.5 million people added to the state’s population during the first decade of the new millennium, “61 percent were nonwhite and 28.5 percent were Hispanic,” said James H. Johnson, Jr. a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.  “So it stands to reason that you would see rapid growth (of minorities) in the electorate.”

The big question of course is turnout. In 2008, blacks comprised 23 percent of  the electorate in North Carolina, but it could be tough for the Obama campaign to maintain that kind of enthusiasm.
 
“Yes, we do have a large number of registered minority voters (in North Carolina). But are they going to go to the polls? That’s the six-million-dollar question,” said Elaine Yarborough, an associate professor at historically-black Shaw University in Raleigh. At the same time, the Obama campaign is spending millions to target voters across the country and in North Carolina.”Of course, there’s no guarantee that these shifts in the eligible voter pool will be fully realized among actual voters in November,” Frey and Teixeira wrote in The New Republic earlier this year. “But the potential is clearly there. And the Obama campaign, with its emphasis on voter mobilization and a strong ground game,  is well-positioned to take advantage of that.”