America’s top 20 conservative-friendly counties

Chris Palko Contributor
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The Daily Caller is ranking the most conservative-friendly counties in America. On Monday, we counted down numbers 81-100. On Tuesday, we looked at numbers 61-80. On Wednesday, we looked at numbers 41-60. On Thursday, we looked at numbers 21- 40. Now it’s time for the final installment: numbers 1-20 (click for slideshow).  The Daily Caller’s Aleks Kulczuga profiled the winning county here.

A quick reminder of our criteria:

  • How counties have voted in the past two presidential elections
  • Median household income, factoring in cost of living
  • Home ownership percentage
  • Married family percentage
  • Civilian veteran percentage
  • State unionization laws, whether a right-to-work state or mandatory union state
  • State tax burden–state income taxes, factoring in available deductions
  • State concealed weapons laws, ease of carrying weapon legally
  • State weekly religious attendance, as measured by Pew
  • State abortion laws, as measured by Americans United for Life
  • Intangibles, such things as a long conservative history, an ingrained military culture, prominent right-wing politicians

A “county” must be a county-level unit, which includes parishes in Louisiana, independent cities in Virginia and boroughs/municipalities in Alaska, and the population must be more than 50,000 as of 2008.

Check back soon for our list of the 100 most liberal-friendly counties in the U.S.

Here are numbers 20-1:

20. Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska
Largest city: Wasilla

Sarah Palin doesn’t exist in a vacuum. She was mayor of her town, Wasilla, which is the largest suburban town in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, the northern suburbs of Anchorage. The Mat-Su Valley, as it is referred to, is the most temperate part of Alaska, even able to support some agriculture. The mostly small-scale suburban settlement is based around the Matanuska and Knik Rivers, which flow into the Cook Inlet by Anchorage. It is a generally affluent area with a high percentage of military veterans (Elmerdorf Air Force Base is in Anchorage). Palin’s neighbors gave her 78 percent of the vote.

19. Paulding County, Ga.
Largest city: Dallas

Republicans turned Georgia politics upside-down in the past decade due to exurban growth in counties like Paulding County. This lies beyond more established, inner suburban counties like aforementioned Cobb County. Most of the county is unincorporated; county seat Dallas has only about 5,000 residents. This county is heavily decentralized, and residents identify more with their residential plan than any city or town. The county gave Bush 76 percent in 2004.

18. El Paso County, Colo.
Largest city: Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs is the right-wing stronghold of Colorado. The Air Force Academy and NORAD are based in the county. About 19 percent of the population are civilian veterans, one of the highest rates in the nation. The other conservative influences are social: Focus on the Family is located in Colorado Springs, as are many other parachurch organizations. Colorado Springs was named by Money Magazine as the best big city to live in 2006.

17. Warren County, Ohio
Largest city: Mason

Warren County is the most conservative of the conservative suburban Cincinnati counties. Its high household income and below-average cost of living means that it has one of the highest standards of living in the nation. The county’s greatest claim to fame is that King’s Island amusement park is based in Mason. Neil Armstrong also lives in the county.

16. Union County, N.C.
Largest city: Monroe

Charlotte is the most conservative of North Carolina’s major cities, and the nearby suburb of Union County is even more so. The communities on the border nearest Charlotte are among the richest in the U.S., while the rest of the county is moderately prosperous. The most famous native is Jesse Helms, whose father was Monroe’s police chief.

15. Utah County, Utah
Largest city: Provo

Utah County is the location of Provo, increasingly the center of Mormon culture. It is the home of Brigham Young University, one of the best right-leaning universities, and the LDS Church’s primary Missionary Training Center. According to a set of political science researchers, Provo is the most conservative city in America with a population over 100,000. Provo has also developed a fast-growing tech sector, filling the area with comfortable white-collar employment. The county has the second-highest percentage of married families on the list.

14. Clay County, Fla.
Largest community: Lakeside

Clay County is located just outside of Jacksonville’s beltway loop. The biggest focus of development is Lakeside, a community just over the border from Jacksonville. The county is a popular place to live for military personnel stationed in Jacksonville. Twenty percent of households contain veterans. It gave Bush 76 percent of the vote. Clay also has a high standard of living, boosted by a large number of retirees.

13. Denton County, Texas
Largest city: Denton

Denton County is to the north of Fort Worth’s Tarrant County. The Metroplex is a hotbed for affluent conservatism and Denton County fits this to a T. Dick Armey transitioned from an economics professor at local University of North Texas to the county’s longtime congressman, rising to House majority leader. Armey was known as a free-market enthusiast, and his home applied these principles to their own situation, with great effect. The population of the county almost tripled during his 18 years in office.

12. Douglas County, Colo.
Largest community: Highlands Ranch

The link between rapid growth and conservatism is on display with Douglas County. It is the main focus of suburban growth in the Denver area, and it was the only suburban Denver county to stay in the Republican column in 2008. The largest development, Highlands Ranch, was developed by Orange County, Calif., developers along the lines of master planned Southern California suburbs. This was the core of Tom Tancredo’s congressional district, showing that affluent professionals were willing to elect a hard-right politician. This is the richest county in Colorado and the second-wealthiest county to make the list (not adjusted for cost of living).

11. Delaware County, Ohio
Largest city: Delaware

Columbus has always been a relatively conservative metropolitan area and the shiny new growth area is Delaware County, north of Columbus. Until about 20 years ago, this was small-town Ohio, which reared all-American figures such as Norman Vincent Peale and Branch Rickey. Columbus has edged north, and the southern part of the county is now suburbanized. It is in the top 10 among major counties in standard of living, and has an 81 percent home ownership rate.

10. Cherokee County, Ga.
Largest city: Woodstock

This is the only the third-highest ranking of the metro Atlanta counties. The county is in large part overflow from built-out northern Fulton County. The two largest cities in the county, Woodstock and Canton, have more doubled their population in the past decade.  The county is 75-80 percent Republican at the presidential level. The land in the south of the county is generally flat and developed, but the north of the county is at the foothills of the Appalachians.

9. Oldham County, Ky.
Largest city: La Grange

The East End has always been the “good” side of Louisville. Over the years, the area’s wealthy residents moved from Louisville itself to the suburbs of Jefferson County. Some have moved even further across the “crabgrass frontier,” to exurban Oldham County. This is the richest county in Kentucky and one of the wealthiest in America. It was a dry county until five years ago, when voters changed the alcohol laws in a referendum, a sign that the New South had arrived.

8. Hanover County, Va.
Largest community: Mechanicsville

Some parts of Hanover County are two miles from Richmond. Other parts of the southern border are more than 15 miles from the city. Because of this, Hanover County is a hybrid suburban/exurban/rural county. Two miles from Richmond is suburban Mechanicsville. In the exurbs is Cold Harbor National Cemetery, which commemorates the Battle of Cold Harbor fought here in 1864. The rural section is where King’s Dominion amusement park is located. The county gave an astounding 76 percent of the vote to Bob McDonnell.

7. Fayette County, Ga.
Largest city: Peachtree City

The south part of Atlanta is traditionally the poorer part of the city, but the southern suburbs of the city are just about as prosperous as anywhere else in northern Georgia. Peachtree City, appropriately named for an Atlanta suburb, was recently rated the 8th best place in America to live. The town is built around a series of golf-cart paths instead of roads, high-school kids are encouraged to drive the carts instead of cars to school. It has a higher percentage of veterans than most really wealthy counties.

6. Collin County, Texas
Largest city: Plano

North Dallas is traditionally the home of the richest people in Texas. The wealthy corridor north of Dallas has spread into northern Collin County. The giant settlement here is the city of Plano, which now has as many residents as Buffalo. Plano is the corporate headquarters of Frito-Lay, Dr. Pepper, EDS (Ross Perot’s company), JC Penney and Rent-a-Center. To the north, burgeoning Frisco now houses Dallas’s MLS team in custom-built Pizza Hut Park. This area is Republican territory, giving Texas native George W. Bush more than 70 percent of the vote.

5. Hamilton County, Ind.
Largest city: Carmel

Indianapolis has long been one of the most Republican cities north of the Mason-Dixon line, and the main suburban overflow county is a model of conservatism. Hamilton County to the north of Indianapolis is one of the richest counties in America. The cities on the border of the county, such as Carmel, Fishers and Noblesville, are now among the largest cities in Indiana, and they are overwhelmingly Republican. The county prides itself on being family-friendly, putting much effort in building recreational facilities and parks. Forbes called Hamilton County the best place in America to raise a child.

4. Shelby County, Ala.
Largest city: Alabaster

Birmingham is a modern metropolis and its growth can be seen to the southeast of the city in exurban Shelby County. This is an affluent, educated county, and the most consistently Republican county in Alabama. Bush won 80 percent of the vote here, making this one of the most conservative wealthy counties in America.

3. Montgomery County, Texas
Largest community: The Woodlands

The Woodlands, Texas could be viewed as a conservative’s vision of earthly paradise. The Woodlands is a master-planned community north of Houston that has swelled to more than 80,000 residents. The area has attracted major corporations to move out of Houston and relocate in surrounding office parks. The Woodlands features a major mall, town center, office buildings, concert venues, seven golf courses and a man-made canal flowing through the business district. Montgomery County, which also features some undeveloped areas to the north, gave Bush 78 percent in 2004 and McCain 75 percent.

2. Forsyth County, Ga.
Largest city: Cumming

The Democratic Party built its powerful urban machines on highly centralized networks of precincts and municipal organization. The Republican Party seems to have built its strongholds on decentralization. Forsyth County, northeast of Atlanta, has a little more than 150,000 residents. Only about 6,000 of them live in an incorporated area. The rest of the county is totally decentralized. In places like this, homeowner associations are more powerful than any branch of local government. Forsyth County gave George W. Bush 83 percent of the vote, better than Democrats did in cities like Philadelphia and Manhattan, and about dead even with San Francisco.

1. Williamson County, Tenn.
Largest city: Franklin

Never heard of Williamson County? Well, you need to start paying attention to it (The Daily Caller’s full story is here). It is number one on this list for a few reasons. First, when you factor cost of living into household income, Williamson County is the wealthiest county, not only on this list, but in America. Second, it is a reliably conservative county: McCain got 69 percent here and its congresswoman is Marsha Blackburn, a strong conservative. It has the single highest rate of married families on the list.  Tennessee is a conservative state, with strong religious adherence and taxation only on interest and dividends. To top it off, it is home to some of the elite of Red America, like country singers Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood and Dolly Parton, and investment guru Dave Ramsey. This is Noam Chomsky’s version of hell.