Davidson County is a large, populous county located in North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad. Directly below Winston-Salem, the northern portion of the county is largely exurban and contains the towns of Midway and Wallburg, both of which are popular among commuters to the Triad’s cities. Indeed, a small portion of High Point is nestled in Davidson County’s northeastern corner, although most of the city lies in the neighboring Guilford County. South of High Point is the largest city located entirely within Davidson County, Thomasville, containing around thirty thousand of the county’s 168,107 residents as of July 2018. The centrally-located county seat of Lexington, meanwhile, is home to around twenty thousand residents, as well as the annual Lexington Barbecue Festival celebrating the city’s renowned barbecue style.
Davidson County’s economy has historically been reliant on farming, mining, and manufacturing, particularly its well-known furniture and textile industries. Recent declines in industrial output have taken a significant toll on growth in the county – Davidson’s population is expected to increase by only 4% from 2010 to 2020, the lowest local growth rate since the nineteenth century. Today, the exurbs south of Winston-Salem are the most quickly growing portions of the county, while the its rural areas are growing slowly and Lexington and Thomasville are experiencing population loss.
High Rock Lake, the second largest lake in North Carolina, is located in southwestern Davidson County at the confluence of the South Yadkin and Yadkin Rivers, the latter of which forms the entirety of the county’s western border. The lake is directly west of High Rock Mountain, the tallest of the Uwharrie Mountains spread throughout the southern portion of the county, as well as the county’s smallest town of Denton.
Davidson County has always been one of the most Republican in North Carolina, having supported the GOP nominee in all but eight presidential elections since the Civil War. Davidson last supported a Democrat in 1944, when Franklin D. Roosevelt won the county by a mere ten votes in the last of his four presidential campaigns. Since then, Davidson has consistently become more and more supportive of Republican candidates – Donald Trump’s 72.6% in 2016 was the best performance of any presidential nominee in the county since Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide, and GOP candidates can regularly expect to receive over 70% of the local vote.
1992 Presidential PVI: R+23 (Safe Republican)
1996 Presidential PVI: R+35 (Safe Republican)
2000 Presidential PVI: R+37 (Safe Republican)
2004 Presidential PVI: R+39 (Safe Republican)
2008 Presidential PVI: R+41 (Safe Republican)
2012 Presidential PVI: R+44 (Safe Republican)
2016 Presidential PVI: R+50 (Safe Republican)
Donald Trump – 72.56%
Hillary Clinton – 24.19%
Richard Burr – 72.20%
Deborah Ross – 23.94%
Pat McCrory – 68.29%
Roy Cooper – 29.46%
The Republican margin of victory in Davidson has increased over each of the last seven presidential elections, indicating the already-solidly Republican county is becoming redder and redder. The GOP also dominates in statewide elections, having won the county in every contested statewide race since at least 2004. On the local level, Republicans are similarly successful – every county officeholder elected in a partisan contest is a Republican, including all seven members of its Board of Commissioners, its Register of Deeds, its Clerk of Superior Court, and its Sheriff. The county’s nonpartisan elected Board of Education, meanwhile, consists of four registered Republicans and one registered unaffiliated voter, while the county’s three nonpartisan elected Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisors include one registered Republican, one registered unaffiliated voter, and one registered Democrat. The local GOP’s strength is further reflected in terms of voter registration – as of June 2018, 47% of registered voters in the county are Republicans, while 29% are unaffiliated voters and only 27% are Democrats.
Davidson County’s congressional and legislative representation reflect a similar loyalty to the GOP, as the county is represented by Congressman Ted Budd (CD-13), state Senator Cathy Dunn (SD-33), and state Representatives Sam Watford (HD-80) and Larry Potts (HD-81), all Republicans. As a result of redistricting ahead of the 2018 elections, SD-33 will be renumbered as SD-29, with local business owner Eddie Gallimore having defeated state Representative Watford in the GOP primary to succeed retiring state Senator Dunn. Davidson County Commissioner Steve Jarvis will replace Watford as the GOP nominee for HD-80, which contains the eastern half of the county and most of Thomasville, while state Representative Potts is running for reelection in HD-81, which contains the western half of the county and Lexington. Although the county’s state legislative districts are each solidly Republican, its congressional race is expected to be competitive in 2018, with Democrat Kathy Manning challenging GOP Congressman Budd in a district that also includes much of bright blue Greensboro.
Within Davidson, Republicans perform best throughout the rural portions of the county and the exurbs south of Winston-Salem, while Democrats generally only perform well in the majority-African American neighborhoods of Lexington and Thomasville. The suburban precincts around Lexington and Thomasville are relatively competitive – Roy Cooper won a number of competitive Lexington precincts in his relatively strong 2016 performance, suggesting some of the county’s suburban voters may have been isolated by then-Governor Pat McCrory’s support for House Bill 2.
Looking ahead, Davidson County will likely maintain its Republican trend, becoming even more supportive of GOP candidates as the county’s rural, predominantly white voters continue to side with conservatives on polarizing social issues. Republicans have become so dominant in the county that GOP primaries are almost always more prominent than general election campaigns – in 2018, for example, most local attention was focused on the Republican primary for Sheriff, which saw controversial former Sheriff Gerald Hege attempt to win the GOP nod to reclaim his once-held position. Republicans in Davidson County may be mostly focused on divides within their own party, but as one of the largest and most conservative counties in North Carolina, Davidson is sure to be a boon for GOP candidates across the state in future cycles.