Or What?

Do South Carolinians hate government? Is there something within our political DNA here in the Palmetto State that causes us to hate government – all governments?

Some recent polling numbers would seem to say there is and we do.

As with so many things in our state, we first need to look at our history, and our history has generally been open hostility against government – most every government.

”South Carolinians were to be under no power on earth but themselves.” - Charles Pinckney

In our earliest days, we threw over the Lords Proprietors that owned our state in exchange for a Crown Colony of the King. We then threw over the King in our Revolution of 1776, and South Carolinians were among the leaders. The bright yellow flag of rebellion that the modern day Tea Party has adopted came from South Carolina. The flag with the coiled rattlesnake proclaiming ‘Don’t tread on me’ is named the Gadsden Flag, in honor of the fiery Charleston revolutionary Christopher Gadsden.

And then came 1860, when we led the fight for Southern Secession against the federal government that ripped apart our nation – enough said about that.

The one tidbit of history that few folks know is that the delegates representing South Carolina at the drafting of the Confederate Constitution in Montgomery held the whole process up for a few days, as they wanted to reserve the right to  secede from the Confederacy.

So fast forward to today. In the last week or so, a couple of polls have been taken in both South Carolina (a Winthrop University poll) and nationally (Pew Research) asking similar questions about how people view government on the national, state and local level.

Though the exact wording of the questions was a little different, the general findings are clear – in every case, we South Carolinians were more negative about government at all levels than our fellow citizens nationally.

When asked to rate the national government, the comparison was SC 19% positive and 79% negative. Nationally, the numbers were 33% positive and 62% negative.

In ratings of state governments, both were somewhat more positive. SC rated 31% positive and 65% negative, as compared to a nationwide rating 52% positive and 42% negative.

And when people looked at their local government, they were even more positive. In SC the positive rating was 46% and the negative 50%. Nationally these numbers were 61% positive and 31% negative.

There are lots of interesting ways to look at these numbers but the conclusion is that we in South Carolina have a negative attitude toward government at all levels, while nationally only the federal government has a negative rating.

At the risk of being a numbers crunching nerd, I did make one other calculation that is very instructive. It you combine people’s feeling about government at all levels, we in South Carolina are overall negative by better than 2:1 – we’re 32% positive and 65% negative. On a national scale, the numbers are slightly positive, 49% to 45%.

So what does this all mean? Is government worse in South Carolina than the rest of the states or are we just a bunch of ‘agin-ers’ – people who are against government in general on all levels.

My guess is we’re a little of both. On the state level, I do believe that our government has become particularly broken and corrupt – and people know it. They are reminded of this every time they turn on a late night comedian, as they seem to always be talking about our state’s politicians – not those of other states.

But I do think there is also something in our nature that makes us more suspicious – if not outright hostile – to government, any government.

Charles Pinckney, one of our state’s and nation’s founding fathers, perhaps said it best: ”South Carolinians were to be under no power on earth but themselves.”

Portrait of Charles C. Pinckney and the Bombardment of Fort Sumter use in this story are in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Phil Noble

Phil Noble

Phil Noble is a businessman from Charleston and he currently serves as President of the South Carolina New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley. Noble is one of the leading experts in the US and internationally on the Internet and politics. Noble is the founder of PoliticsOnline and its affiliated company Phil Noble & Associates, an international public affairs consulting firm. Noble is a veteran of over 300 political campaigns and public affairs projects in 40 states and 30 countries. He has worked to elect the head of state in 15 countries.