The results of a recent Gallup poll indicate North Carolinians have varied thoughts when it comes to the state’s climate surrounding religion and the attitudes toward minorities, among other topics. These factors point to a general welcoming climate, and in a state with unsteady levels of acceptance, Elon University students and alumni have mixed feelings about living in North Carolina.
The poll was conducted nationally between January and July 2014 and sampled residents of all 50 states according to population. The information for North Carolina residents appears in the North Carolina Scorecard. In addition to satisfaction and culture, the survey also asked questions about politics and economics.
In the survey, 63 percent of North Carolina residents indicated they would remain in the state, compared to the national average of 65 percent. In addition, 83 percent indicated they are satisfied with their city or area, the same as the national average.
Elon junior Kirby Vuocolo, from Pennsylvania, said she wants to stay in the state after graduation.
“I feel safe, and people in general are just nice,” Vuocolo said. “People talk to you in line at the supermarket. There’s a quaintness here. Everything is so close, but it’s still rural.”
Lauren Duffy, director of employer and corporate relations for the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business and a 2008 Elon alumna from the Washington, D.C. area, lived in Paris, Baltimore and Arkansas after graduation. But in 2012, she decided to move back to North Carolina.
“There was a peaceful atmosphere in North Carolina that wasn’t in the D.C. area,” Duffy said. “I didn’t know much about North Carolina when I was a student. Now, I have a better understanding of the state.”
She and her husband, also an Elon alumnus, moved to Raleigh and Duffy said it’s the best place she’s lived.
“We really chose to come back to North Carolina based on our experience at Elon,” Duffy said. “We just appreciate the Southern culture, but in Raleigh we have amenities of the Northeast, like the arts and culture.”
Arayael Brandner, an alumni engagement officer for the mid-Atlantic region and a 2013 Elon alumna, said she decided to stay in North Carolina to pursue a career in higher education. She said she has noticed general trends with students staying in the state in her tenure in the alumni office.
“A lot of students who stay go to cities like Raleigh or Durham,” she said. “A lot of young alumni end up in my [mid-Atlantic] region. I think a lot of people come back and settle here. This is a good place to raise a family. A lot of people venture out and if nothing sticks, they come back to North Carolina.”
But in the poll, only 34 percent of people indicated that North Carolina was the best or one of the best states to live in, compared to the national average of 46 percent who said their state was one of the best.
Sophomore Mackenzie Dunn, from New York, said that the area around Elon doesn’t have the same offerings as her home environment.
“For me, coming from a big city, here is really different,” she said. “I miss being closer to a city. It feels remote for me. The Elon area is sort of removed from the rest of North Carolina.”
Dunn added that she decided to explore colleges in North Carolina after hearing about other New Yorkers who moved to the state. She said she would consider staying in the state after graduation because of the lower cost of living and job opportunities.
“A lot of people from New York move down here because you have everything you need, but it’s a slower pace,” she said. “It’s also Southern but not so [far South].”
But Thomas Arcaro, professor of sociology and director of Project Pericles, said that satisfaction is difficult to measure from polling. He said that people should look at the Gallup results with caution because some of the questions were “poorly conceived.”
“There are so many factors that go into whether you’re satisfied or not, and few depend on where you live,” Arcaro said. “Happiness and satisfaction have to do with relationships and what you’re doing.”
Arcaro said that one of the poll’s limitations is that people could answer based on a personal desire to justify their choice to live in North Carolina.
“People want to affirm that they’ve made the right decision about where to live,” he said.
In the culture section of the poll, over 50 percent of residents were “very religious,” compared to the national average of 41 percent.
Vuocolo said that this atmosphere has influenced her experience in North Carolina.
“I’ve always been very religious,” she said. “I’m in a Christian sorority. There are a lot of organizations both on campus and off campus to stay religious.”
But Arcaro said that the religious atmosphere in North Carolina is difficult for non-Christians and non-believers, which can impact their satisfaction. He said that Christian beliefs influence many laws in the state, including Amendment One, the 2012 ban on same-sex marriage.
“The arguments were almost exclusively biblically based,” Arcaro said. “That’s just an example of when [Christian] beliefs have affected society in a very significant way.”
In the poll, more than 80 percent of residents said they thought their city or area was a good place for ethnic or racial minorities, about the same as the national average.
Despite these poll findings, Arcaro said North Carolina, like other Southeastern states, isn’t friendly to minorities.
“If your skin is a different color [than white], life is not the same,” he said. “Racism is alive and well in the U.S. and in North Carolina. I can’t imagine anyone who’s Latino or African-American responding this way in the survey.”
Brandner said she thinks there aren’t many events around Elon to allow people to learn about different cultures. But she said that she goes to performing arts and athletic events at the university to be educated.
“I think it’s becoming a more inclusive area,” she said. “I almost wish there was more in the area — more opportunities to learn about different cultures.”
But Duffy, who lives in downtown Raleigh, said that the city has a welcoming atmosphere for minorities.
“I think that Raleigh is a progressive city,” Duffy said. “But coming from the D.C. area, there are a lot more international people there.”