Alleghany County is a small, rural county located entirely in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. One of five counties in the United States named for the Allegheny Mountains (spelling varies regionally), Alleghany County is one of North Carolina’s Lost Provinces, a group of counties in the northwestern part of the state historically isolated by mountainous terrain. The county is small in both size and population, with its 11,233 residents as of mid-2017 rendering it the sixth least populous county in the state and its 235 square miles making it the sixth smallest in size.
Alleghany’s only municipality is its county seat, Sparta, with the rest of the county consisting of seven rural townships. The county experienced only 4.3% growth from 2000 to 2010 – low even for rural Appalachia – although it does maintain an active livestock industry and is known for its production of Christmas trees. Perhaps the county’s most significant political contribution has been the Doughton family – Robert Doughton represented the area in the United States House of Representatives from 1911 to 1953 (he served as the Dean of the House during his last few months), and his older brother Rufus served as the Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives and as Lieutenant Governor in the late 1800s.
Politically, Alleghany County is much more similar to other counties in the Appalachians than those in the Foothills. Like other Appalachian counties, Alleghany has historically maintained a strong Democratic voting record, although recent years have seen it trend sharply towards the Republican Party. Alleghany County last voted for a Democratic presidential nominee in 1992 (Clinton vs. Bush) and has moved towards the GOP in every presidential election since, swinging away from Barack Obama between 2008 and 2012 more heavily than any other county in North Carolina. The county supported Democrats in five of twelve statewide elections in 2008, but it has since only voted for Republicans in statewide races, suggesting a long-term movement into the Republican column.
1992 Presidential PVI: D+3 (Tossup)
1996 Presidential PVI: R+12 (Likely R)
2000 Presidential PVI: R+19 (Safe R)
2004 Presidential PVI: R+17 (Safe R)
2008 Presidential PVI: R+28 (Safe R)
2012 Presidential PVI: R+40 (Safe R)
2016 Presidential PVI: R+49 (Safe R)
Donald Trump – 71.76%
Hillary Clinton – 24.57%
Richard Burr – 70.37%
Deborah Ross – 25.29%
Pat McCrory – 67.31%
Roy Cooper – 30.87%
Alleghany’s trend towards the GOP has left Democrats without a geographic stronghold in the county, and 2016 saw each of the county’s four precincts vote to elect all statewide Republican candidates, GOP Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (CD-05), state Representative Jeffrey Elmore (HD-94), and state Senator Deanna Ballard (SD-45). Democrats do maintain some support in and around Sparta – the populous central Alleghany County precinct containing Sparta is typically somewhat less Republican than its neighbors, and long-time Sparta mayor John Miller is a registered Democrat. However, Democratic support on even a local level has eroded in recent years, with Republicans capturing the county commission from Democrats in 2016 and holding a 4-1 majority as of 2018.
Looking into the future, Republicans will likely continue to make gains in Alleghany County, maintaining consistent victories in federal, statewide, and local races as the county blends in politically with the rest of western North Carolina. For Democrats to perform well in Alleghany and the rest of Appalachia, candidates will need to strike a moderate tone, as the area is predominantly rural, demographically monotonous, and increasingly susceptible to the brand of conservative populism championed by Donald Trump. Candidates of both parties can still be competitive in Alleghany County – particularly in local races – but the county does seem to have abandoned its Democratic roots in favor of the GOP, perhaps for good.
To access the 2013 version of this profile written by John Wynne, please click here.