Chowan County is one of the “finger counties” located north of the Albemarle Sound. The county seat is Edenton. In 2010, the population was 14,793, making it one of the smaller counties in North Carolina. It is also the smallest county in the state in terms of land area.
The county is dominated by conservative, rural Democrats. Democrats comprise 53% of the registered voters in the county, but these are often ticket-splitters. Chowan last supported a Democratic presidential candidate fairly recently, back in 2000 when Al Gore won it by 15 votes. In the most recent presidential election, Chowan voters backed Republican Mitt Romney by a small margin.
With African Americans comprising 32% of registered voters, Democrats’ path to victory here relies on peeling off a small number of conservative Democrats. This becomes more difficult in federal races, where conservative Democrats are likely to split their tickets because of social issues.
This is one of the few counties where Walter Dalton outperformed Barack Obama. Once again, these Romney/Dalton voters were mostly conservative Democrats.
Chowan is divided into the 1st and 3rd congressional districts, respectively represented by Democrat G.K. Butterfield and Republican Walter B. Jones, Jr. In the State Senate, it is part of the 3rd district, represented by Democrat Clark Jenkins. In the State House, Chowan is part of the 1st district, represented by Republican Bob Steinburg. The County Commission is controlled by Democrats.
Given its location, coastal issues are of particular importance here.
1988: D+3 (Toss-Up)
1992: D+5 (Toss-Up)
1996: D+5 (Leans Democratic)
2000: R+0 (Toss-Up)
2004: R+7 (Leans Republican)
2008: R+8 (Leans Republican)
2012: R+8 (Leans Republican)
Forecast: Chowan became more Republican at the federal level as the national Democratic Party became more socially liberal. Although Bill Clinton won here twice and Al Gore won here in 2000, John Kerry did not, and Barack Obama failed to do so in both 2008 and 2012, despite the enthusiasm of a heavily motivated African American base.
Should Hillary Clinton be nominated and her present level of popularity be maintained through the 2016 general election, it is likely that Chowan will be competitive. Democrats should be wary of a drop in African American turnout, essential to their prospects here.
Chowan County grew by a scant 1.84% during the 2000s decade. The county has not seen the high levels of growth seen in the other “finger counties” like Camden and Currituck. Indeed, a decline in population is anticipated in the next census.
While Chowan’s population has been largely unchanged since 2000, there have been subtle demographic changes. The black population declined by almost 7%, while the white population grew by 4%. Hispanics grew at a 113% rate but are still only 3% of the population and are largely unregistered. Given these trends, Chowan is expected to become more Republican. But this hardly matters given the county’s light population.
John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.