Located in the Appalachian Mountains, Jackson County has a population of over 40,000 residents. The county seat is Sylva, but the largest town is Cullowhee.
A portion of the Qualla Boundary Indian reservation is located in the county. Jackson is also the site of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. This combination makes Jackson more Democratic than the average Appalachian county, and attributed to Obama’s victory here in 2008.
1988: D+5 (Leans Democratic)
1992: D+7 (Leans Democratic)
1996: D+2 (Toss-Up)
2000: R+4 (Toss-Up)
2004: R+1 (Toss-Up)
2008: R+2 (Toss-Up)
2012: R+5 (Leans Republican)
Forecast: Jackson can be considered a “swing county” in North Carolina politics, but the county is unlikely to see visits from presidential contenders because of its small size. It would be more accurate to describe Jackson as a “bellwether” county. Jackson went Democrat in 2008 and Republican in 2012, reflecting state trends. Young voters were key in Jackson County in 2008, their reduced turnout and a drop of support among traditional Democrats probably led to Obama’s defeat here four years later. For Democrats to remain competitive, they need to keep youth turnout high. A candidate like Hillary Clinton would be a strong contender in Jackson County in 2016.
The county’s growth rate during the 2000s was 21.59%, which is very strong. The growth rate since then, however, has been vastly reduced, it is predicted that the growth rate will be less than 2% by 2020. In the absence of growth or demographic change, Jackson’s politics are unlikely to change substantially. Democrats are competitive here and should be favored in non-presidential contests. Democrat Joe Sam Queen currently represents Jackson in the North Carolina House, and Jackson resident Mark Meadows is the current Congressman from this district. Finally, the Board of Commissioners is divided, with two Democrats, two Republicans, and one unaffiliated member who is the current chairman.