Yancey County is located in the Appalachian Mountains along the Tennessee border. It is sparsely population, with a 2010 population of 17,818 residents. It was named after Bartlett Yancey, former North Carolina Speaker of the House who sought to correct the vastly unequal representation of the western counties in the General Assembly. The county seat is Burnsville, named for Otway Burns, an 1812 naval hero. Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains, is located in the county’s borders.
Yancey has a strong Democratic heritage but now tends to vote Republican at the federal level. Barack Obama was a poor fit for the county. A possible explanation is Yancey’s overwhelmingly white population. At 95% white, Yancey is one of the homogenous counties in the state. Mitt Romney carried every precinct in the county.
1988: D+3 (Toss-Up)
1992: R+2 (Toss-Up)
1996: R+8 (Leans Republican)
2000: R+14 (Strong Republican)
2004: R+2 (Toss-Up)
2008: R+13 (Strong Republican)
2012: R+18 (Solid Republican)
Forecast: At the presidential level, Yancey has an idiosyncratic voting history. The very isolated populace tends to vote with their pocketbook, therefore Democrats have a chance here in bad economic times despite the social conservatism of the residence. Al Gore did poorly here in 2000 thanks to his platform calling for gun control, but economic issues allowed Kerry to do much better here in 2004. Yancey residents were not fond of Barack Obama and voted accordingly. To win Yancey at the federal level, Democrats need candidates who can appeal to low-income whites, those who “cling to their guns and religion”. But this is not a necessity, as proved by successive Democratic wins in 2008 and 2012. Nor is Yancey a particularly important county: its tiny population renders it effectively powerless to affect state politics.
Going forward, Hillary Clinton could play well with the county’s voters, but victory here is not assured. A low growth rate (0.25%) during the 2000s is evidence of economic decline and lack of opportunity in the county. The Hispanic population is a surprisingly high 5%.
Like many other isolated mountain counties in North Carolina, Yancey County has a proud tradition of voter fraud. The SBI is currently investigating shenanigans circulating around the 2010 sheriff’s race.