Comprising the northeastern corner of North Carolina, Currituck County is bounded by Virginia to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Currituck is the easternmost of the Coastal Plain’s five long, narrow “finger counties” located above the Albemarle Sound, with the county’s mainland coast separated from the ocean by a section of the famed barrier islands known as the Outer Banks. Since a coastal development boom in the 1970s, Currituck’s population has skyrocketed – the number of permanent residents in the county increased from under seven thousand in 1970 to 27,109 as of July 2018, largely due to the Outer Banks’ popularity among retirees and the wealthy. Currituck is expected to grow by an additional 19% from 2010 to 2020, a substantial rate but somewhat lower than past decades due to the impact of the Great Recession. However, the county’s population does nearly double every summer, with a surge of residents from elsewhere in North Carolina and the United States coming to enjoy their vacation homes and a multitude of beaches.
Today, Currituck is mostly home to retired and wealthy residents lining the Outer Banks, as well commuters to the Hampton Roads metropolitan area in southeastern Virginia. 90% of the county’s predominantly older, affluent residents are white, and over three-fourths were born outside North Carolina, the highest proportion of any county in the state. Economically, Currituck is dominated by real estate, as well as tourist activities – hunting, fishing, nature watching, and boating are popular attractions, particularly on the North River, which defines the county’s western border, and the Currituck Sound, which separates its mainland from the Outer Banks. Currituck is also home to two wildlife refuges, a national estuarine research reserve, and one of North Carolina’s seven active lighthouses. While the county contains no incorporated municipalities, Currituck does contain over twenty unincorporated communities, one of which – also named Currituck – serves as the county seat.
Historically, Currituck was long the most Democratic county in North Carolina, voting for the Democratic nominee throughout an entire century of presidential elections from 1868 to 1964. The county’s conservative Democratic brand was extremely loyal to its party’s nominees, voting over 80% Democratic in every presidential election from 1904 to 1948. However, Currituck’s overwhelmingly white, rural voters began abandoning the increasingly liberal Democratic Party in the 1960s, opting instead for more conservative alternatives – the county gave third-party segregationist George Wallace his highest margin of victory statewide in 1968, and it supported its very first Republican presidential nominee by backing Richard Nixon in 1972. Currituck flipped back to the Democrats in 1976 and 1980 to support Southerner Jimmy Carter but has voted Republican in every presidential election since, and not by small margins. Donald Trump’s 72.3% of the vote in Currituck was the best performance of any Republican presidential candidate in the history of the two-party system, while Hillary Clinton’s 23.0% was the worst performance of any Democrat.
1992 Presidential PVI: R+10 (Lean Republican)
1996 Presidential PVI: R+14 (Likely Republican)
2000 Presidential PVI: R+23 (Safe Republican)
2004 Presidential PVI: R+32 (Safe Republican)
2008 Presidential PVI: R+39 (Safe Republican)
2012 Presidential PVI: R+39 (Safe Republican)
2016 Presidential PVI: R+51 (Safe Republican)
Donald Trump – 72.33%
Hillary Clinton – 22.99%
Richard Burr – 72.31%
Deborah Ross – 24.31%
Pat McCrory – 71.54%
Roy Cooper – 25.51%
Currituck has also become solidly Republican in North Carolina’s statewide elections, having voted for the Republican nominee in every contested statewide race since at least 2004. On the local level, the GOP has also developed a sizeable advantage, but some traces of the county’s Democratic heritage remain. All seven members of the county’s Board of Commissioners, the Register of Deeds, and the Clerk of Superior Court are Republicans, while the county’s Sheriff is a Democrat. The county’s Board of Education is composed of three Republicans and one unaffiliated voters, while the county’s three elected Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisors include two Republicans and one unaffiliated voter.
One might expect such a Republican county to have a Republican advantage in terms of voter registration, but Currituck actually has the highest proportion of unaffiliated voters in the state – as of June 2018, 43% of registered voters in the county are unaffiliated, while 37% are Republicans and only 20% are Democrats. This is due to the large number of affluent, well-educated retirees in the county, many of whom prefer to identify with neither major party despite their loyalty to the GOP at the ballot box. Moreover, as such a high proportion of Currituck residents hail from out-of-state, many refrain from associating with North Carolina political parties largely focused on state and local issues. Unaffiliated voters became the largest group in Currituck in March 2009, while registered Republicans overtook registered Democrats in September 2010.
Currituck County is currently represented by Congressman Walter Jones (CD-03), state Senator Bill Cook (SD-01), and state Representative Bob Steinburg (HD-01), all Republicans. After the 2018 elections, however, SD-01 will be reconfigured substantially, and Currituck will leave HD-01 altogether to move to the neighboring HD-06. In the highly competitive new version of SD-01, current state Representative Bob Steinburg (R) will be competing against Washington County Commissioner D. Cole Phelps (D), while the strongly Republican HD-06 will likely be won by Bobby Hanig (R), the current Chairman of the Currituck County Board of Commissioners.
Within Currituck County, all precincts are solidly Republican, although by varying margins – the mainland precincts tend to give Republican candidates over 70% of their support, while the Outer Banks precincts often give Republicans under 60%. This is likely because the Outer Banks precincts are home to more residents from other parts of the country, some of whom are not quite as socially conservative as the longtime locals. Lifetime residents of the county, meanwhile, tend to hold more conservative views typical of rural, white voters in North Carolina, resulting in their overwhelming support for today’s Republican Party.
In future years, Currituck County will likely become even more Republican than it is today, with longtime residents losing their last vestiges of Democratic loyalty and newer residents – predominantly older, affluent whites – adding to the area’s conservative preferences. Currituck is one of only a few counties in the state where an increasing population leads to a steady Republican trend, so the GOP will be welcoming growth here and elsewhere on North Carolina’s coast.