Duplin County is a large, rural county located centrally within North Carolina’s Coastal Plain region. Duplin is economically and culturally defined by its expansive agriculture industry, including some of the state’s largest poultry producers in addition to the famous Duplin Winery. The county is most prominent, however, for hog farming – part of the region’s “Swine Alley,” Duplin has more hogs than most states and arguably the most of any county nationwide. The local hog industry can be quite controversial, with number of the recent multimillion-dollar nuisance lawsuits against Smithfield Foods originating from residents of the county.
Duplin’s agriculture industry has a noticeable demographic influence – the county has the largest proportion of Hispanic residents in North Carolina, many of whom are agricultural workers on the county’s nearly one thousand farms. Like most Coastal Plain counties, Duplin is home to a large African American population as well. As of mid-2018, around half of the county’s 59,446 residents are white, while one-fourth of residents are African American and a similar proportion is Hispanic. Despite continued strong growth within the county’s Hispanic population, Duplin is expected to see a lackluster total growth rate of only 2% from 2010 to 2020, largely due to a stagnant growth rate among the county’s white and African American residents. Although Duplin is racially diverse, the county is overwhelmingly rural – of its twelve incorporated towns, the largest one located predominantly in the county (Wallace) is home to only four thousand residents and the county seat (Kenansville) has less than one thousand.
Duplin has historically been one of the most consistently Democratic counties in North Carolina – with the exception of Herbert Hoover’s GOP landslide in 1928, the county supported Democratic nominees throughout an entire century of presidential elections from the end of the Civil War to 1964. However, the latter part of the twentieth century saw white, rural conservatives in the South begin to abandon the increasingly liberal Democratic Party, with Duplin occasionally shunning Democratic nominees to support third-party segregationist George Wallace’s presidential bid in 1968, Nixon’s landslide reelection in 1972, and Reagan’s landslide reelection in 1984. The county last supported a Democratic presidential nominee during Clinton’s 1996 reelection bid and has since voted Republican in every presidential election – Donald Trump’s 58.6% victory in 2016 was the largest of any presidential candidate in Duplin since 1976.
1992 Presidential PVI: D+6 (Lean Democratic)
1996 Presidential PVI: R+2 (Tossup)
2000 Presidential PVI: R+9 (Lean Republican)
2004 Presidential PVI: R+14 (Likely Republican)
2008 Presidential PVI: R+17 (Safe Republican)
2012 Presidential PVI: R+15 (Likely Republican)
2016 Presidential PVI: R+21 (Safe Republican
Donald Trump (R) – 58.58%
Hillary Clinton (D) – 39.72%
Richard Burr (R) – 58.38%
Deborah Ross (D) – 38.98%
Pat McCrory (R) – 59.35%
Roy Cooper (D) – 39.57%
Duplin’s shift to the GOP in statewide elections, while much more recent, is also noticeable – the county supported all ten Democratic nominees for statewide office in 2008, five from each major party in 2012, and all ten Republican nominees in 2016. The county’s increased isolation from the Democratic Party is also evident in terms of voter registration, as although Democrats have a 47%-27%-26% voter registration advantage over Republicans and unaffiliated voters as of August 2018, the proportion of registered Democrats has fallen by fifteen percent since 2004.
Local politics in Duplin County have seen an equally dramatic partisan shift in recent years, due to both pro-GOP electoral trends and party identification changes among elected officeholders. Democrats lost control of the county’s Board of Commissioners in 2016 when a once-Democratic incumbent was reelected as an unaffiliated voter, and the same incumbent’s switch to the GOP after 2016 gave Republicans a 3-2 advantage over Democrats among the commissioners. Republicans also have a 3-2 advantage over Democrats on the county’s Board of Education, having taken their majority in 2014. While Duplin’s Sheriff and Clerk of Superior Court are both still Democrats, the county’s Register of Deeds switched from Democratic to unaffiliated after being reelected in 2016. The county’s elected Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisors, meanwhile, consist of two registered Democrats and one registered unaffiliated voter, a former Democrat who left the party in 2018.
Within Duplin County, Democrats perform best among African American and Hispanic voters, most of whom are clustered in the small towns and rural areas of the central and southwestern portions of the county. In 2016, Clinton, Ross, and Cooper each won three precincts in those areas on Election Day, coming close in a number of other central and southwestern precincts. Republicans, meanwhile, dominate in the predominantly white northern and eastern portions of the county. In 2016, a number of Republican candidates won over 80% or 90% in many of the county’s northern and eastern precincts, even those with substantial Hispanic populations. Indeed, sparse voter turnout among Hispanic locals – many of whom are ineligible to register to vote or do not speak English fluently – is the main reason for GOP dominance in such a racially diverse area. Despite having the largest proportion of Hispanic residents in North Carolina, Duplin has only the fifth largest proportion of Hispanic registered voters.
Duplin’s congressional and legislative representation present yet another example of Republicans’ newfound strength in the county. Although Democrats have historically represented Duplin in Congress and the General Assembly, the GOP took both of the county’s legislative seats in 2010 and its congressional seat in 2014. Currently, Duplin is represented by Congressman David Rouzer (CD-07), state Senator Brent Jackson (SD-10), and state Representatives Jimmy Dixon (HD-04) and Larry Bell (HD-21) – all are Republicans but Bell, whose strongly Democratic district was redrawn to include the county’s predominantly African American and Hispanic precincts after 2011 redistricting. However, court-mandated redistricting ahead of the 2018 midterms has removed Bell’s portion of Duplin from his district and reunited the county within Dixon’s, meaning Duplin will likely return to fully GOP legislative representation in 2019.
Electoral trends in Duplin match those of many other counties in eastern North Carolina, where white, rural voters have largely abandoned their Democratic roots in favor of the increasingly conservative GOP. Duplin is quite socially conservative indeed – Pat McCrory outperformed Richard Burr and even Donald Trump in the county in 2016, suggesting Duplin supported the then-governor’s controversial social policy proposals like House Bill 2 despite the state’s rejection of them. In future years, Duplin will likely continue to trend Republican, with the GOP extending its dominance to local elections as white voters continue to distance themselves from the Democratic Party. The proportion of Hispanic voters in Duplin will continue to increase, but unless their historically low voter turnout pattern changes dramatically, the Republican Party will be confident of future success in the county.