Buncombe County was one of the brightest spots for Democrats on Election Night, not just in North Carolina, but nationwide. In a year where few incumbent GOP legislators were defeated, Buncombe ousted both of its Republicans in the NC House delegation. In addition, Kay Hagan nearly replicated her 2008 margin of victory there, an impressive feat; had she held up as well in the rest of the state, she would have won reelection by a comfortable margin.

Clearly, Buncombe continues its march to the left, driven mostly by the influx of left-leaning transplants, especially to the city of Asheville, dubbed “a cesspool of sin” by former state Senator Jim Forrester. Beyond that, what happened in Buncombe this year? Some say the “Mountain Moral Monday” movement helped, but there’s no way to know for sure. So let’s make an educated guess based off electoral geography.

Below are maps, depicting the Obama/Romney presidential results in Buncombe, and two years later, the Hagan/Tillis results. The 2008 election between McCain and Obama was thrown in for good measure.

buncome through the years

The Moderate Suburbanites

As you can see, Hagan improved on Obama’s numbers pretty much everywhere. In only two precincts did do worse. What’s the cause? Three words: white, suburban moderates. This group is critical to winning statewide and they’re pretty influential in Buncombe. Unfortunately for the GOP, the liberals in Asheville are so numerous that Buncombe is pretty much out of reach for them even in a perfect GOP year. Depending on how Republicans do with these moderate suburbanites, they’ll either lose the county by a couple points or by 20 points. In other words, Buncombe is not a swing county anymore, but has an elastic voting populace.

Tillis performed at pretty much John McCain levels with these moderate suburbanites (modsubs?). The reason Tillis won the state while McCain lost is that the Hagan campaign fell a tad short when it came to turning out Obama coalition voters, especially college students. In 2008, Republicans underperformed with suburbanites because they freaked out about the economic collapse. In 2014, Tillis underperformed because these same voters were leery with the moves of the General Assembly, especially on education.

NC House Races in Buncombe

Hagan carried 2 of 3 NC House districts based in Buncombe. Despite the Democratic rout in the county, Tillis carried the 116th by a couple points. Thus, freshman Democratic Rep. Brian Turner is one of a handful of Democrats representing a district won by Romney and Tillis and therefore might be vulnerable in 2016 if he votes like a liberal. Moffitt lost because his personal favorability was too low. Ramsey lost because he represents a moderate district that were upset with the legislature and took it out on him.

Republicans may have gotten too greedy with the 2011 redistricting, at least in Buncombe County. Instead of drawing two GOP-leaning seats, they could have drawn one super-safe Republican seat which would have inoculated them from any substantial demographic changes over the decade. But in the end, GOP mapmakers probably made the right choice, conceding one Asheville-based seat and giving them the chance to take two seats in a good year for them. Ager and especially Turner will be vulnerable in 2016.

New voters:
Here is the partisan breakdown of Buncombe County residents who registered after November 6th, 2012:

9,341 Unaffiliated (49%)
5,987 Democrats (31%)
3,618 Republicans (19%)
308 Libertarians (2%)

We don’t know who these unaffiliated voters are, but because of sorting, in urban counties like Buncombe they’re more likely to be sympathetic to the Democratic Party. If we leave out unaffiliated voters and registered Libertarians, the party breakdown of new voters to Buncombe is 62-38 in favor of Democrats, a probable indication the county is trending to the left. This is despite 87% of the new registrants being white.

Of the new voters, only a quarter were actually born in North Carolina. Another 19% were born elsewhere in the South (excluding Florida, the birthplace of 6% of the new voters). Another 6% were born in New York and 4% were born in some other country. The remaining 46% were born in some other state outside the South. (Incidentally, there were 36 new black Republicans, with one of them being born in another country.) Note: Just because these people were newly registered to vote doesn’t mean they actually voted, of course. Still, it’s likely Democrats had a good night in Buncombe at least in part because they did a better job registering voters – either because they were more organized or because the newly registered were naturally more sympathetic to the Democratic Party.

Who Actually Voted?
The 2014 electorate in Buncombe County was like this (numbers in parentheses means change since 2012):

91% White (+2)
5% Black (-1)
4% Other (-1)

45% Democratic (+1)
28% Unaffiliated (-1)
27% Republican (no change)

Despite a whiter electorate, Democrats were a larger composition of the electorate than in 2012. Did Democrats have a really good turnout operation, did Republicans have a lousy one, both, or was there a “transplant effect” making the electorate naturally more liberal? We don’t know the answer to that question, yet.

The White Vote
There was definitely a shift with white voters, though. Assigning “other” votes to Hagan by a 67-33 margin and blacks to her by 97-3 (based on the exit polls), I estimate that Tillis received about 43% of the white vote in Buncombe County. This is as a percentage of the two-party vote, meaning his actual total with whites was even lower. Compare that with Mitt Romney’s result with this group – 47%.

That makes Buncombe very liberal not only by NC standards, but by national standards as well. Other counties where Hagan probably won the white vote: Chatham, Orange, Durham, and Jackson. (Whites in Chatham and Jackson went for Romney in 2012.) Hagan’s stronger appeal with whites was not limited to just Buncombe; this was a statewide phenomenon. In rural areas, it was because she did much better with traditional working-class Democrats who voted for Romney. In urban areas, she won Romney voters for a different reason, namely backlash against the General Assembly. Both played a role in Hagan’s larger margin with whites.


Bottom line: Democrats had a good night in Buncombe County because of an energized Democratic base (spurred in part by the Moral Monday movement), an influx of new liberal-leaning residents, and by doing better with white voters who supported Mitt Romney in 2012. While once again having a majority of the legislative delegation is by no means out of the question, the county as a whole is probably lost to Republicans going forward. In the future, a good GOP performance in Buncombe is keeping the race within single digits, a result that would be promising for any Republican candidate running statewide.


  1. barry

    Largely ignored in the discussion about Tim Moffitt’s loss is the fact that the GOP County Commission candidate in the same district got 1300 more votes than he did. Moffitt lost by about 950 votes. Two weeks before the election, the local Tea Party was practically advising people to vote against him. Why? Two things: drones, and tolls on interstates/privatization in general. I know because I was invited to speak at their meetings as a progressive who is ALSO concerned about drones and tolls/privatization. Tim Moffitt tried to mislead them on both topics, and it was the final straw for them.

    I disagree with them on just about everything else, but I have to say they showed real integrity on those issues. I hope other GOPers catch the hint: don’t open our skies to warrantless surveillance from drones, and don’t hand over public infrastructure to private profiteers.

  2. Christopher DjBe Bifani

    Sum guy up said its cause of illegals voting…and theres the clown car!

  3. Mike L

    I’m noticing ever since the 1st of the year the comments have been getting more and more negative and petty…what’s up w/ that?

    • N

      The trolls have discovered this site.

  4. Gregorious Collo-Rosso

    You guys are overanalyzing this, it is all about demographics. The new voters in Buncombe didn’t come from Kansas or Alabama, they came from the North East and South Florida. Add that to the illegals voting and hey, what happened is what is supposed to have happened. It couldn’t have been otherwise regardless of what the parties did or did not spend.
    However I haven’t heard mention of McHenry or Meadows or Foxx, not a subject you guys want to talk about right now?

  5. N

    “Compare that with Mitt Romney’s result with this group – 47%.”

    Perfect! Who said irony is dead?

  6. Will

    One thing the article gets wrong: The role of Moral Monday. Brian Turner publicly stated that he did not agree with the Moral Monday protests on all counts and did not attend. John Ager did and this provided fodder for the first attack ad the State Republican Party ran against him looked like this: http://imgur.com/gallery/pQS2l/new

    While the growth of Dem-leaning suburbs assisted Ager in areas like Swannanoa and Weaverville, the real story here is turnout. 115 broke 50%. It wasn’t enough to simply have those folks move, they had to be engaged with a local race and both Turner and Ager succeeded in turning out the folks likely to vote for them.

  7. Smithson

    However, I believe there was a lot of third party spending on the R side that seems to be ignored in the posts above.

  8. Smithson

    I am really (n NOT) impressed with the intellectual firepower on display from Buncombe Republicans here. Nathan’s comments are fairly accurate from the perspective of a long-time political observer. I have always enjoyed your objective analysis without ideological rantings. The rest of the R posts are embarrassing. We certainly have our own wing-nuts, but yours are the wing-nuttiest.

    • Gregorious Collo-Rosso

      I hope you’re not referring to me as I am the absolute picture of probity and decorum. So, if I had to guess I’d say RedHotPoker is not a conservative at all but a leftist troll…wouldn’t you?

      • RedHotPoker

        LOL…you’d be wrong …well, social liberal / Constitutional Conservative
        is my status as an UNaffiliated Voter, of which Dumbcum County has the HIGHEST percentage registered…YAY – THAT is a statistic the ‘crackkks HATE to see !!!
        And the major Dumbcum Co Republicannot problem is they are mostly progressive squishy ‘mccain type’ rinos, which is the outdated ‘establishment’…WE the PEOPLE are DONE with those people NOW. It’s time they, too, correct their path. WE are showing them the way but they sometimes resist.

        • Gregorious Collo-Rosso

          Have you tried Thorazine? I’m almost sure it would help.

    • N

      Trust me. There is no intellectual firepower among Buncombe Republicans. What you see here is it, and it is a key reason why the county party is in shambles and has not been able to win a county-wide election in ten years.

  9. Gregorious Collo-Rosso

    When I think of Asheville I immediately think of the actor Harry Anderson’s conversation with Bill Maher. He had moved to the Mountain Mecca for Morons after Ray Nagin screwed up New Orleans so bad after Katrina that it was unlivable (and of course GWB got all the blame, thanks unbiased news media). He even said as much.
    Anderson when asked about Asheville said he liked the place and that he was part of the “heterosexual underground” living there. BIG LAUGH!

    • larry

      ha ha ha ha ha ha….GWB WAS to blame for New Orleans along with Iraq, oh thats right you right wingers don’t like to talk about Iraq, As a native of the mountains I can assure you that the morons tend to be all flatlanders.

      • Gregorious Collo-Rosso

        I stand corrected Larry. Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco were fantastic…eh, you know, if you happen to be a leftist Democrat with stroke damage.

        You may send a thank you note (or love letter) to:
        Ray Nagin
        c/o Federal Bureau of Prisons
        FCI Texarkana
        4001 Leopard Drive
        Texarkana, TX 75501

  10. RedHotPoker

    Dumbcum County is FULL of uber lieberal government dependent leftwingers who do NOT live in the real world. Asheville is blighted by MORE public housing per capita than any other city in NC, and IT SHOWS! Trashed out neighborhoods, beggars, thieves, third world streets…all of it…these are the areas NOT frequented by the revered touristas…The area
    has lost a lot of legislative clout but at least the democrackkks got their 2 newbies in there…
    Many people moving here leave within a couple of years because of REAL conditions in the cesspool of sin. The local online media is nasty, vindictive and censors/blocks many comments from a different opinion than theirs. Much of the pervasive local crime goes UNreported so we don’t alarm the touristas! Yes, downtown is charming, but VERY expensive, which is why the locals cannot afford it anymore…Asheville SUFFERS many many problems that go unaddressed by DECADES of zero leadership and a joke of a city council and county commission – mostly all EVIL democrackkks!

    • larry

      ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…putz…ha ha ha ha

    • Matt

      Troll much? lol

  11. Bridget McCurry

    It was the work of compassionate volunteers in the Ager campaign!!

  12. Nathan

    None of these three seats were “safe”seats for Republicans. In 2012 the Presidential race was almost a virtual tie in H115. The other seats were always very close based on historical voting patterns. All three seats will be very competitive in 2016 and future years based on those historical voting patterns. H119 is the only other House seat west of Hickory that is a swing seat similar to H115, H116, and H118. This is not to take away from the hard work of D candidates and their supporters, they had the advantage on the critical campaign metrics (money and grassroots) and usually when you have that advantage in swing districts, you win.

  13. Nathan

    Tom you’ve got a great turnout operation and you should definitely be proud of that but you had that in 2012 and in prior years. This post is on point because demographic trends favor Ds but what made the big difference in legislative races in 2014 was over $3 million of independent expenditure group spending on behalf of Democrat candidates in H115, H116, and H118. With this huge financial advantage D candidates enjoyed a 5:1 to 10:1 spending advantage in all three of these races. Regardless, congratulations on your election victories!

  14. Tom Sullivan

    There is more than registration and demographics at work in Buncombe County. Much credit is due to the candidates, their campaigns, and the organizational strength of the local party. Buncombe Democrats have some of the best, most experienced campaign talent in the state. Some of that has been augmented lately by the influx of retirees with political chops. Also, by our retaining Obama 2008 vets in the area, young activists who cut their political teeth on winning. Democrats won every race in Buncombe County in 2008 and held their ground in 2010 while Dems in the rest of the state got hammered. In 2014, certainly, Moffitt had turned off much of his own base. But Turner also campaigned smartly and canvassed heavily in 116 (W and SW). The blue bulge in the NE of the county (115) is in precincts where veteran field organizers burned a lot of shoe leather for Ager.

    Those two seats are in districts drawn to be safe for Republicans by Republicans. There was a lot of hand wringing by Democrats after the election about what went wrong for them across the South. Maybe, just maybe, they should be asking instead what Buncombe does right.

    At the end of ED afternoon, before polls closed, a veteran Election Protection attorney visiting from Massachusetts said he had never seen a county-level operation like ours. That compliment was almost better than the victories. Almost.

Related Posts


Get the latest posts from PoliticsNC delivered right to your inbox!

You have Successfully Subscribed!