North Carolina’s biggest cities might have deep pockets — but pound-for-pound, the small towns are the most politically engaged.

Longleaf Politics poured through contributions filed with the N.C. Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement to determine which of the state’s towns had the highest rates of political giving.

These are the towns where people line up to speak at public hearings and where politicians flock to host fundraisers. They punch way above their weight in the political arena.

The 25 most political towns in North Carolina

RankCity2018 DonationsPopulationGiving per capita
1Franklin$145,796.263,993$36.51
2Pittsboro$94,671.394,266$22.19
3Pembroke$57,287.713,009$19.04
4Chapel Hill$841,967.7859,246$14.21
5Hillsborough$90,932.646,568$13.84
6Pinehurst$190,095.1115,945$11.92
7Davidson$114,963.4512,452$9.23
8Clinton$58,092.258,674$6.70
9Southern Pines$91,652.2713,782$6.65
10Cornelius$168,147.9828,515$5.90
11Asheville$496,421.8889,121$5.57
12Hickory$216,654.0640,567$5.34
13Morganton$88,260.4616,665$5.30
14Waxhaw$74,507.0214,194$5.25
15Hendersonville$71,199.2413,840$5.14
16Holly Springs$169,188.1333,260$5.09
17Lumberton$99,371.7321,499$4.62
18Raleigh$2,087,493.51458,880$4.55
19Wilmington$533,635.99117,525$4.54
20Durham$1,103,704.89263,016$4.20
21Salisbury$141,844.6934,001$4.17
22New Bern$114,234.4930,101$3.80
23Sanford$106,480.6929,128$3.66
24Kinston$75,272.1720,923$3.60
25Cary$569,841.42162,320$3.51

As you can see, big cities can get short shrift in this type of ranking. That’s why we broke them out in their own category.

The most political big cities in North Carolina

This list includes cities with populations of more than 50,000.

RankCity2018 DonationsPopulationGiving per capita
1Chapel Hill$841,967.7859,246$14.21
2Asheville$496,421.8889,121$5.57
3Raleigh$2,087,493.51458,880$4.55
4Wilmington$533,635.99117,525$4.54
5Durham$1,103,704.89263,016$4.20
6Cary$569,841.42162,320$3.51
7Burlington$161,042.4152,709$3.06
8Greenville$238,753.2391,495$2.61
9Rocky Mount$126,021.6355,466$2.27
10Fayetteville$452,243.52204,759$2.21
11Jacksonville$149,174.6567,784$2.20
12Greensboro$611,292.84287,027$2.13
13Charlotte$1,650,457.09842,051$1.96
14Concord$176,017.7389,891$1.96
15Winston-Salem$430,613.22242,203$1.78
16High Point$144,448.51111,223$1.30
17Gastonia$76,705.8975,536$1.02
The Old Well at UNC-Chapel Hill.

How we determined the rankings.

Longleaf Politics started off by crunching more than 100,000 individual contributions reported to the North Carolina State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement in the first six months of 2018. They were made to candidates for state and local office, and to state-level PACs and the state parties.

We used that to compile a list of the 100 cities with the most political donations by raw dollar amount. You can see that map below.

Then we took the most recent population estimates and determined a per-capita amount. We researched the smallest towns and removed a few where the giving was dominated by people donating to their own campaigns. This eliminated Whispering Pines and Spring Hope.

These figures will be updated quarterly.

The 100 top cities for political giving in North Carolina

Click here to see a bigger version of the map or to download data.

Cover image via the town of Franklin.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting research. I’m curious if the donations were sorted by postal address, as opposed to geocoding? It seems like this could strongly affect the numbers. For example, the wealthiest portion of Carrboro, and a huge swath of wealthy suburban Chatham County would be included in the postal codes for Chapel Hill, though the population listed here is for the municipal limits, which have a considerably smaller population.

    • You’re right, it is postal address and not geo-coded. And I suspect your inference about the Chapel Hill area is correct!

  2. As other have said, the methodology of using zip codes to determine residency is flawed because zip codes don’t follow any political boundaries.

    Most zip codes in rural areas extend far outside the city limits they are named for, so the population they actually serve is much larger than the city limit. Where in urban areas they can be contained just in city limits.

    Not only do zip codes not follow the municipal boundaries for cities, they do not even follow county boundaries. This has been a constant headache for anyone who does mail order sales in NC who must remit sales tax as the merchant must charge the tax rate for the county that it is delivered to- not the rate where the merchant does business and is located- and submit the tax listing that county as the place of sale.

    That can be almost impossible for some zip codes- like 27244 Elon that is in Alamance, Caswell and Guilford. 27517 Chapel Hill is in 3 counties. 27572 is in 4 counties- Durham, Granville, Orange, and Person. It goes on and on and is a huge headache for anyone who does mail order in NC and has a physical presence in NC as the state essentially makes it almost impossible to comply with state law on how sales tax is collected without a person Googling every address and searching what county it’s in. And it makes using zip codes for a study like this pretty much impossible because there is so little correlation between zip code boundaries and actual political boundaries.

    Heck, there is a small community in Haywood County that all live in NC, but they have a Tennessee postal address and zip code because they are served by a TN Post Office.

    • I apologize for confusion here, but it is based on postal ADDRESS not postal CODE. So town name as it appears in your mailing address. The data does not use ZIP code whatsoever. The issues with mapping ZIP codes to towns are well-known.

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