Alleghany County is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, on the Virginia border. As of 2010, the population was 11,155, making it one of the least populated counties in the state. The county seat is Sparta.
The name comes from the Allegewi Indian tribe, from which the Allegheny mountain chain is also derived. By the late 1700s European colonists started to inhabit the area, and in 1859 the county was formed from Ashe County.
Today, Alleghany County is known for producing a large amount of Christmas trees. Cattle and dairy products also loom large in the county’s economy.
Despite a strong Democratic tradition, Alleghany has trended strongly Republican in recent years. Though President Obama lost support in the vast majority of North Carolina counties in his 2012 reelection, in no county did he drop more than Alleghany. While John McCain failed to crack 60% here in 2008, Mitt Romney won Alleghany with over two-thirds of the vote. For western North Carolina, this was an unusual plummet in support, and more typical of the strong pro-Romney trend in other parts of Appalachia, most notably in Kentucky and West Virginia.
1988: D+6 (Leans Democratic)
1992: D+3 (Toss-Up)
1996: R+12 (Strong Republican)
2000: R+19 (Solid Republican)
2004: R+17 (Solid Republican)
2008: R+28 (Solid Republican)
2012: R+40 (Solid Republican)
Forecast: Although Democrats are strong locally, their strength in federal elections in Alleghany County has considerably diminished. From 1988 to 2012, the county trended 46 points to the right. Half of this trend came about in the past two election cycles with Barack Obama on the ballot. Clearly, the voters of Alleghany County are not fans of the President, but their hostility is strong even by western North Carolina standards.
Given Obama’s severe underperformance here in both 2008 and 2012, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 will probably do much better. But this is an area that is trending away from Democrats of all stripes. It is getting increasingly difficult for Democrats here to hold Republicans to less than 60% of the vote. Despite this, support for local Democrats persists, with that party holding a majority on the Board of Commissioners.
The county’s growth rate during the 2000s decade was 4.48%, below average. Perhaps the only ray of hope for Democrats here is the burgeoning Hispanic population, which constituted 9% of the overall population in 2010. This is one of the highest shares of Hispanics in western North Carolina. Many are unregistered. The bottom line: Alleghany County, like most of Appalachia, looks increasingly dire for Democratic candidates, up and down the ballot.
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.