In sports, the Gamecocks wear garnet and black. Clemson wears orange and purple. In politics, South Carolina is red and deep red.
These are what are known as “self-evident truths.” Things that just are.
While the garnet and orange will probably last until the Second Coming, the red in South Carolina politics is changing – and changing faster than most folks think.
In varying degrees, three recent polls in the state tell the same story: while the overall partisan split between Democrats and Republicans appears fairly consistent favoring the Republicans, the secondary level issue questions show that the underlying attitudes are moving more toward Democratic positions. Pollsters of both parties agree that changes that occur first in secondary level questions foreshadow changes in partisan identification.
Full disclosure: I’m a Democrat, so I’m glad to see these good secondary numbers but I’m more excited that this shows there is an emerging consensus for more moderate, common sense politics in our state.
Poll # 1 – In August, a Public Policy Polling survey asked about a number of social and economic issues that have traditionally been very divisive issues with stark contrasts between Democrats and Republicans. Consider the following verbatim analysis from the poll:
- 84% of voters in the state support background checks on all gun purchases; only 10% are opposed to them. That includes bipartisan support from 86% of Democrats, 83% of independents, and 82% of Republicans.
- Similarly, 81% of voters in the state support barring those on the Terror Watch List from buying guns, with only 10% opposed to that. That includes bipartisan support as well from 85% of Republicans, 79% of Democrats, and 76% of independents.
- 77% of voters in the state support increasing the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour, with only 13 % who think the current level is acceptable, and 8 % who would like to eliminate it altogether. 91% of Democrats, 71% of independents, and 67% of Republicans think the minimum wage should at least go up to $10 an hour.
- 78% of voters in the state – including 85% of Democrats, 76% of independents, and 73% of Republicans – support allowing student loans to be refinanced at lower rates.
- There’s 53% – 25% support for legislation protecting LGBT South Carolinians from discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations. Voters under age 45 support that by an even wider 37-point margin at 58% – 21% showing the extent to which South Carolina will become more progressive when it comes to LGBT issues in the years ahead.
And the poll found that South Carolinians are increasingly better educated, as 17% had some college, 26% had a college degree, and 17% had post-graduate education. This is a total of 60% with at least some college and 43% that have a college degree or more.
Poll # 2 – A second poll in August by the Feldman Group was commissioned by the S.C. Democratic Party and the most interesting section of the poll looked at attitudes of white voters that identified themselves as independent or swing voters.
- 79% favor reducing college loan costs
- 78% support a law requiring equal pay for equal work
- 77% favor universal background checks before gun purchasing
- 70% favor increasing state funding for education
- 57% support tax cuts for the middle class and tax hikes on the wealthy
- 54% favor increasing the minimum wage
- 54% favor providing birth control to teenagers and low-income women
- 48% support universal pre-kindergarten
- 42% support expanding Medicaid
And, most interestingly, this group of white independent voters supports Trump 43% to 19% for Clinton.
Poll #3 – The third poll in September was the Winthrop University Poll. In surveying all votes they found overwhelming support for what have traditionally been seen as Democratic issues:
- 81% support a state law requiring equal pay for equal work for men and women.
- 79% support reauthorization and funding for the SC Conservation Bank, a state agency that protects South Carolina’s rivers, farms, and forests through voluntary land protection agreements.
- 78% support legalizing medical uses of marijuana.
Why is this happening, and what does it mean for The New South Carolina?
There are three big takeaways from all of this that explain what is happening: in-migration, moderation and nationalization.
First, in-migration. A whole lot of new folks are moving to South Carolina and they don’t think like the majority of us who have already been here for a while. After Washington state, South Carolina has the highest rate of in-migration per capita of any state in the union. These newcomers tend to be bunched on both ends of the age spectrum: young people who move here because it’s a great place to live, work, and raise a family, and older folks who retire here because they like our climate, low taxes on seniors and they think that Florida is overdone.
Second, moderation. While many of these younger voters would be classified as ‘liberal’ (see the LGBT issue above), the older new voters are ‘moderate’ Republicans. In referring to the fringe S.C. Republican politicians that seem to dominate the headlines and the legislature, one of this older group said to me, “I was generally a Republican in Ohio, but I’m not one of those crazies.”
Third, nationalization. Since the 1960s, there have been a number of forces that have made South Carolina and the South in general more like the nation as a whole. We all watch the same media channels, eat at the same fast food chains, wear the same brands of clothes (and everything else we buy) from the same national retailers. For many of us, it’s very sad to see our state and the South ‘lose’ many of the things that make us unique and special – but the changes are happening.
The bottom line on all these numbers and trends is that South Carolina (like our neighbors in Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia) is trending more Democratic and will likely become increasingly competitive.
When we have been a one-party state, whether with the Democrats in the past or the Republicans today, it has not been good for our state. It’s only when we have real competition between the parties, ideas, and policies that our state has progressed.
This is what we can look forward to in The New South Carolina – and that’s a good thing.