Caldwell County contains the city of Lenoir, its county seat. It is part of the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton Metropolitan Statistical Area, which has experienced economic problems for years due to the loss of manufacturing jobs. Both textiles and especially furniture were the backbone of the economy here. In 2010, the population of Caldwell County was 83,029. The county was named for Joseph Caldwell, first president of the University of North Carolina.
Geographically, Caldwell is divided between gently rolling Piedmont hills and two mountain chains, the Blue Ridge and the Brushy Mountains. Caldwell is also the location of the town of Blowing Rock, which features spectacular mountain views as well as Tweetsie Railroad, which contains North Carolina’s only functional steam engine train.
Politically, Caldwell County is strongly Republican. It was last carried by a Democratic presidential candidate in 1976, when Jimmy Carter carried it by 9 points. In 2012, Mitt Romney won here by a commanding 35.50% margin. Republicans control the Board of Commissioners and the legislative delegation, and in Congress Caldwell County is represented by Republican Mark Meadows. Voters here are staunchly conservative, strongly adhere to the Southern Baptist tradition, and are even less predisposed to vote Democratic when Barack Obama is heading the ticket.
As of July 2013, Caldwell County had an unemployment rate of 9.9%, worse than both the national and state averages.
The Broyhill furniture family hails from this county; a prominent member of this family is Jim Broyhill, who served briefly as a United States Senator from North Carolina in 1986, having been appointed to that seat following the death of John East. Broyhill sought election in his own right that year, but lost to Democrat Terry Sanford.
1988: R+24 (Solid Republican)
1992: R+19 (Solid Republican)
1996: R+29 (Solid Republican)
2000: R+34 (Solid Republican)
2004: R+33 (Solid Republican)
2008: R+37 (Solid Republican)
2012: R+39 (Solid Republican)
Forecast: It is unlikely that the voting patterns in Caldwell County will change significantly any time soon. The growth rate is not strong, and demographic change has been insignificant. Whites here are voting more Republican, alienated by the increasing cultural liberalism of the Democratic Party, though it is possible this has peaked, and Obama’s absence from the ballot in 2016 will result in a slight increase in Democratic votes. But there is nothing on the horizon that indicates Caldwell being anything but solidly Republican.
The growth rate in the 2000s was 7.25%, below the national and state average. The economic problems here have not been resolved, and a negative growth rate is likely for 2020. This area, once highly important to the economic affairs of the state, has been decimated by the loss of jobs overseas and it is a question whether it will ever regain its former prominence.