North Carolina’s biggest cities might have the deepest collective pockets — but pound-for-pound, the small towns were the most politically engaged in 2018.

Longleaf Politics pored 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 over the full calendar year 2018. The study updates one we did in July.

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

Rank
CityAmountPopulationDonations Per Capita
1Franklin$177,939.573,993$44.56
2Pembroke$101,328.653,016$33.60
3Pittsboro$139,387.414,266$32.67
4Chapel Hill$1,424,697.9559,246$24.05
5Hillsborough$129,449.206,568$19.71
6Pinehurst$274,284.8515,945$17.20
7Davidson$195,201.1612,452$15.68
8Clinton$116,344.258,674$13.41
9Southern Pines$142,879.0113,782$10.37
10Waxhaw$125,304.9014,194$8.83
11Asheville$779,395.8489,121$8.75
12Cornelius$247,887.0128,515$8.69
13Hendersonville$112,721.6513,840$8.14
14Morganton$132,145.9616,519$8.00
15Raleigh$3,662,195.18458,880$7.98
16Lumberton$166,022.5821,499$7.72
17Hickory$292,270.1940,567$7.20
18Wilmington$831,025.16117,525$7.07
19Durham$1,814,081.66263,016$6.90
20Sanford$199,749.5729,128$6.86
21Burlington$330,704.5852,709$6.27
22Boone$107,839.7618,834$5.73
23Holly Springs$189,690.5533,260$5.70
24Cary$890,569.88162,320$5.49
25New Bern$162,717.2730,101$5.41

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.

RankCityPolitical donationsPopulationPer capita giving
1Chapel Hill$1,424,697.9559,246$24.05
2Asheville$779,395.8489,121$8.75
3Raleigh$3,662,195.18458,880$7.98
4Wilmington$831,025.16117,525$7.07
5Durham$1,814,081.66263,016$6.90
6Burlington$330,704.5852,709$6.27
7Cary$890,569.88162,320$5.49
8Greenville$437,467.5891,495$4.78
9Rocky Mount$205,729.1755,466$3.71
10Fayetteville$727,994.68204,759$3.56
11Winston-Salem$832,999.77242,203$3.44
12Greensboro$957,034.66287,027$3.33
13Charlotte$2,441,309.46842,051$2.90
14Concord$241,631.6289,891$2.69
15Jacksonville$174,422.0067,784$2.57
16High Point$209,323.25111,223$1.88
17Gastonia$134,646.6175,536$1.78
The Old Well at UNC-Chapel Hill.

How we determined the rankings

Longleaf Politics started off by crunching more than 170,000 individual contributions reported to the North Carolina State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement in 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.

We also removed towns where a single donor skewed the results. This eliminated the town of Lucama, where former Gov. Jim Hunt donated more than $300,000, and Hertford, where Penelope Byrd donated more than $100,000 to Bob Steinburg.

These figures will be updated twice per year.

The 100 top cities for political giving in North Carolina in 2018

Click to see a bigger version of the map.

Here are the raw figures.

CityAmount
Raleigh$3,662,195
Charlotte$2,441,309
Durham$1,814,082
Chapel Hill$1,424,698
Greensboro$957,035
Cary$890,570
Wilmington$831,025
Asheville$779,396
Fayetteville$727,995
Winston Salem$833,000
Greenville$437,468
Lucama$359,936
Burlington$330,705
Hickory$292,270
Pinehurst$274,285
Cornelius$247,887
Concord$241,632
High Point$209,323
Rocky Mount$205,729
Sanford$199,750
Davidson$195,201
Holly Springs$189,691
Salisbury$180,803
Apex$178,094
Franklin$177,940
Jacksonville$174,422
Lumberton$166,023
New Bern$162,717
Wake Forest$161,222
Hertford$151,409
Southern Pines$142,879
Pittsboro$139,387
Gastonia$134,647
Morganton$132,146
Asheboro$129,565
Hillsborough$129,449
Waxhaw$125,304
Clinton$116,344
Hendersonville$112,722
Monroe$111,212
Whispering Pines$109,927
Boone$107,840
Kinston$105,493
Goldsboro$104,069
Spring Hope$103,385
Pembroke$101,329
Mooresville$100,291
Matthews$90,141
Morrisville$89,128
Fuquay Varina$87,990
Statesville$86,962
Huntersville$83,249
Cherokee$79,755
Waynesville$78,224
Wilson$74,822
Lexington$71,771
Shelby$70,192
Hampstead$69,088
Elizabeth City$68,927
Southport$63,202
Newton Grove$61,841
Summerfield$59,686
Aberdeen$59,134
Wallace$58,836
Kitty Hawk$58,666
Weaverville$58,263
Henderson$57,285
Lenoir$56,820.10
Kernersville$55,670
Conover$55,659
Edenton$55,585
Dunn$55,246
Louisburg$54,352
Newton$53,844
Wrightsville Beach$53,692
Brevard$53,615
Leicester$53,479
Fletcher$52,122
Beaufort$51,577
Garner$51,441
Lillington$50,883
Washington$50,828
Advance$50,543
Burnsville$47,336
Smithfield$47,271
Newport$44,059
Benson$43,174
Fairview$42,814
Mocksville$42,785
Taylorsville$42,441
Tarboro$41,021
Manteo$40,048
Graham$39,764
Forest City$39,401
Clayton$39,361
Carrboro$39,243
Blowing Rock$38,860
Mount Airy$38,818
Mebane$38,444
Laurinburg$37,758

Note to reporters: Feel free to reference any of this data in your publication, but please cite Longleaf Politics and provide a link to this page.

Cover image via the town of Franklin.

9 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.

  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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