guilford

Guilford County, located in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina, is the third largest county in the state. As of 2010, Guilford had a population of 488,406. The county seat is Greensboro; the city of High Point is located in the southwestern corner of the county.

In 1960, Guilford County became a major site of the civil rights movement with the Greensboro sit-ins, when four black men intentionally sat at a “whites-only” counter and refused to leave until they were serviced or arrested.

Prominent Guilford County residents include former First Lady Dolley Madison and O. Henry, the short story writer. Howard Coble, currently the longest serving congressman in North Carolina, is from Summerfield, which is located in northwest Guilford. Junior senator Kay Hagan is a Greensboro resident.

Recently, Guilford County has become a Democratic stronghold, in line with other metro counties in the state and in the country.

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro is located in the county.

Politically, Democrats are strong in the city of Greensboro, which contains some of the strongest Democratic precincts in the entire state, thanks to a large African American population. Democrats are also strong in African American precincts in High Point. Republicans dominate the rural outer fringes of the county; swing voters tend to be white, well-educated, and suburban; these voters are heavily concentrated in northern Greensboro.

PVI
1988: R+6 (Leans Republican)
1992: R+2 (Toss-Up)
1996: R+7 (Leans Republican)
2000: R+2 (Toss-Up)
2004: D+4 (Toss-Up)
2008: D+12 (Strong Democratic)
2012: D+13 (Strong Democratic)

Forecast: Like many metro areas in North Carolina, Guilford was historically more friendly to the Republican Party than the rest of the state. In presidential elections, Republicans had a slight edge. This began to change starting in 2004, and Obama’s turnout machine completed Guilford’s transformation into a strong Democratic county. Democrats have been aided by increased registration of black voters and in-migration of voters from elsewhere, particularly the Northeast. Notably, Pat McCrory failed to carry the county, losing by almost 6 points while winning statewide by almost 12. McCrory grew up in Jamestown, so obviously his roots there did not help him with voters.

Richard Burr carried the county in his 2010 Senate race, which was a landslide by North Carolina standards. But this was truly a perfect storm: not only was 2010 an incredibly favorable environment for Republican candidates, but Burr also hailed from the Triad area and may have had a regional advantage. Burr was aided by the failure of key elements of the Obama coalition to turn out, most notably black voters in Greensboro. And yet, he only carried the county by 2 points. Barring a perfect storm like this in the future, Republicans are likely to be shut out of Guilford. Republicans have control of the Board of Commissioners, but this is due to a district-wide system of elections that dilutes the power of heavily Democratic Greensboro.

Republicans are almost certain to lose here in the 2014 Senate race. Not only is Guilford strongly Democratic, but Kay Hagan is from Greensboro and has her base there. The potential Republican candidates who could do best in Guilford include Phil Berger, who represents parts of the county in the State Senate, and Jim Cain, who is from High Point.

It is a common refrain that metro counties in North Carolina are becoming more liberal thanks to an influx of voters from the Northeast. While this is true to a certain extent, in Guilford’s case the increased Democratic vote is due almost entirely to growth in the black population and growth in black registration. In Guilford County, the white population grew by only 2.52%, which is startlingly low for a metro North Carolina county. In contrast, the black population exploded – 28.92% growth. Simply put, the white population has not been keeping up with the black population, and this has helped Democratic candidates. Because a third of the population in Guilford County is now African American, this gives Democrats a solid base of support that almost never fails them come election time. If Democrats can turn out their African American base, they will win in Guilford every time.

Guilford’s population growth has slowed in recent years, but if growth continues to be primarily African American then this will further help Democratic candidates. It is unlikely that black enthusiasm and turnout will be as high in 2016, but this hardly matters. Down the road, Guilford is expected to remain strongly Democratic, or shift to the dark blue ‘solid Democratic’ category.

2012 presidential election results in Guilford County (blue = Obama; red = Romney)

2012 presidential election results in Guilford County (blue = Obama; red = Romney)

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: johncwynne@gmail.com.

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