This is the first entry in our County Geography series. The idea comes from Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog, but instead of analyzing states, we will be analyzing the counties within North Carolina. First up is Alexander.
From Wikipedia: “Alexander County is located within the Piedmont region of western North Carolina. The county’s main geographic feature is the Brushy Mountains, a deeply eroded spur of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west. The “Brushies,” as they are called locally, rise from 300 to 1,000 feet (300 m) above the surrounding countryside, and dominate the county’s northern horizon. The highest point in Alexander County is Hickory Knob in the Brushies, it has an elevation of 2,560 feet (780 m) above sea level. Barrett Mountain, an isolated mountain ridge, is in the western part of the county. The remainder of Alexander County’s terrain consists of gently rolling countryside. The county’s largest river, the Catawba, forms its southern border.”
The map above displays the 2012 presidential election results in Alexander County, by precinct. Those precincts carried by Mitt Romney are in red, while those carried by Barack Obama are blue. As you can tell, there are no blue precincts in the map, so Romney’s victory in Alexander was solid. This is not surprising – Alexander County is located in the Foothills region of North Carolina, historically (and today) the strongest Republican region in the state.
What makes Alexander County so conservative? First, one should consider the racial demographics. The county is over 90% white, and it is overwhelmingly rural. The only thing even coming close to being an urban area is the county seat of Taylorsville, where Democrats can sometimes be competitive.
Below is the presidential PVI for Alexander County. This is derived from comparing the results in the county to the national average in each presidential election:
1988: R+25 Solid Republican
1992: R+20 Solid Republican
1996: R+32 Solid Republican
2000: R+38 Solid Republican
2004: R+37 Solid Republican
2008: R+45 Solid Republican
2012: R+48 Solid Republican
In 1988, Alexander County was a “solid Republican” county. In 2012, it remained solid Republican – only much more so. At R+48, Alexander County in 2012 is almost twice as Republican as it was in 1988. Voters in the Foothills reacted strongly to Bill Clinton’s first term in office, and they reacted just as negatively to the candidacy of Barack Obama.
Future prognosis: Alexander’s growth rate from 2000 to 2010 was 10.7%, which is average. Overall, Barack Obama’s performance in Alexander County probably represents something of a low point for Democrats. Interestingly, Elaine Marshall performed better in Alexander than Barack Obama did in both 2008 and 2012. An election year without Obama on the ballot would certainly improve Democrats’ chances. Realistically, however, there’s almost no way that Alexander will be competitive in the near – and probably the distant – future. Fortunately for Democrats, the county is much too small to be much of a factor in statewide races.