Press "Enter" to skip to content

Press Release: Duke Team at Sanford School Develops A New “Country-Politan” Interpretation of Contemporary NC Politics


Polis is pleased to announce the publishing of two related articles on contemporary North Carolina politics by Polis’ former director and Sanford School Professor Mac McCorkle with Rachel Salzberg, a 2020 graduate of the Sanford Master’s Program.

Now posted on the Polis website is McCorkle and Salzberg’s analysis of the 2020 presidential election in North Carolina entitled “The Democrats’ Countrypolitan Problem in North Carolina: Progressive Challenge and Opportunity.” See the link immediately below:

Today McCorkle and Salzberg are also posting on the PoliticsNC website an op-ed column summarizing their Countrypolitan interpretation with an explicit frame of reference on statewide North Carolina races in 2022 and future election cycles.

In the words of Sanford political scientist and new Polis director Deondra Rose, “the McCorkle-Salzberg articles constitute a new interpretation of contemporary North Carolina politics that goes beyond the standard narrative about the so-called rural-urban divide as the crucial driver of statewide election results.”

McCorkle and Salzberg show that Donald Trump’s biggest, most crucial base of support for his 2020 (and 2016) statewide victory were the 28 outlying “Country-politan” counties in bigger metropolitan areas which straddle the urban-rural divide.

These Countrypolitan counties officially qualify as “metropolitan” according to the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) based on their job-commuting ties to nearby counties with comparatively big cities. At the same time, these outlying metropolitan counties still exhibit significant mixes of rural and small-town legacies.
McCorkle and Salzberg use the term “Countrypolitan” to capture the hybrid status of these 28 outlying metropolitan counties.

“[North Carolina’s] Countrypolitan counties, explain McCorkle and Salzberg, “stretch across a broad economic range. They include growth dynamos like Johnston in the Raleigh metro and Union in the Charlotte metro. At the other end of the spectrum are struggling counties like Rockingham in the Greensboro metro.”

Given the continuing strong red-Republican majorities in almost all these Countrypolitan counties, McCorkle and Salzberg think that NC Democrats would be well advised “to reject any complacent belief that their ‘2U’ base of Urban areas and University towns will guarantee victory [in upcoming statewide elections].”

To develop a dependable statewide majority, McCorkle and Salzberg argue that Democrats must “lose less” in Countrypolitan counties and other Republican-red counties.

Among other strategies, McCorkle and Salzberg focus on the strengthening of local and usually “multi-racial” Democratic pockets of support across some county seats and other relatively larger municipalities in Countrypolitan and other red counties. Such outposts have or recently had mayors who are registered Democrats, city council Democratic majorities, or both.

A prime example is the local Democratic base in the town of Monroe, which is the county seat of the otherwise strongly red Countrypolitan county of Union in the Charlotte metro and former GOP Senator Jesse Helms’ ancestral home.

Other local outposts in red Countrypolitan counties include Gastonia (Gaston County), Hendersonville (Henderson County), Roxboro (Person), and Reidsville (Rockingham). Such outposts in other red counties include Burlington (Alamance), Morganton (Burke), New Bern (Craven), Goldsboro (Wayne), Sanford (Lee), Beaufort (Carteret), and Albemarle (Stanly).

“Our hope,” McCorkle and Salzberg emphasize, “is that our two articles will be the first but not the last words on the Countrypolitan interpretation of contemporary North Carolina politics. We believe that a Countrypolitan view opens up new paths for further exploration of contemporary North Carolina politics.”