Graham County is located in the western North Carolina mountains on the Tennessee border. One of the smallest counties by population, less than 10,000 people make their home here. The county seat is Robbinsville. Graham was named after William Alexander Graham, governor of North Carolina, U.S. Senator, and the Democratic nominee for Vice President in 1852. A portion of the Qualla Boundary, a Cherokee Indian reservation, extends into parts of the county.
The county is marked by the strict adherence to tradition and the socially conservative values of its residents. Amendment 1 passed by a larger margin here than in any other county, prevailing with almost 89% of the vote. It is also the only dry county remaining in North Carolina.
As one might imagine, Barack Obama did not play well with Graham’s voters, winning only 28% of the vote here in 2012. But this result makes Graham appear more Republican than it actually is. In fact, voters in Graham are perfectly willing to vote for a Democrat, so long as they are the right type of Democrat. Hayden Rodgers, Democrat for the 11th congressional district, actually managed to carry Graham County while President Obama was losing here in a landslide. For a Democrat to win here, they must hold culturally conservative positions. A local connection helps, hence Rodgers’ respectable showing. But leftists of any variety are not welcome here. Liberal stances on gay marriage, abortion, and gun control encounter substantial opposition.
Thus, despite being a very impoverished county, with an unemployment rate of above 15%, Graham is not inclined to support national Democrats because of the perceived liberalism of that party. The Religious Right is influential here. The last time Graham supported a Democrat for President was Jimmy Carter in 1976 – a fellow Southerner and an evangelical Christian.
1988: R+16 (Solid Republican)
1992: R+15 (Solid Republican)
1996: R+26 (Solid Republican)
2000: R+39 (Solid Republican)
2004: R+33 (Solid Republican)
2008: R+45 (Solid Republican)
2012: R+46 (Solid Republican)
Forecast: With a relatively stable population, Graham County is not likely to change its ways any time soon. However, because of the small population, just a tiny influx of new residents could have a large effect on its voting habits. So far, that has not happened yet.
It is likely that Hillary Clinton would significantly outpace Barack Obama here, whose margins here represent the trough of Democratic performance. But a Democratic victory here, in a federal race, is almost impossible to imagine. The only Democrat capable of competing here statewide is probably Heath Shuler.
Despite President Obama’s terrible performance here, it is notable that he significantly outpaced opposition to Amendment 1, and his later endorsement of gay marriage did not cause an overwhelming drop in support from 2008. It must be inferred that a significant number of voters were able to reconcile their opposition to gay marriage with support for the President’s reelection.
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.