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Primary Election Season: South Carolina in Depth

WEDNESDAY, FEB 26, 2020

The next presidential primary contest takes place in South Carolina. The field of Democratic Party candidates remains at eight, with all but one (Michael Bloomberg) on the ballot in South Carolina.

In 2008, the Democratic Party moved South Carolina to the fourth position in the primary calendar to bring the Southern region of the country into the primary process earlier. This Social Explorer analysis takes a deeper look at the first southern primary election using data and maps from the Census Bureau and recent presidential elections. 

Voting History:

Looking to the general election South Carolina contributes nine of the 538 Electoral College votes up for grabs (more than the other three states that have had primaries so far). Democrats are competing in the Primary Election of a state that almost always votes Republican—the last Democrat to win the state in a General Election was former Governor of neighboring Georgia Jimmy Carter back in 1976.

The following Social Explorer maps, based on data from Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, show the voting trends in South Carolina for recent general elections.

In 2008, South Carolina voted 53.9 percent for McCain to 44.9 percent for Obama. In 2016, that margin widened to the double-digits when Trump beat Clinton 54.9 percent to 40.7 percent. Explore the maps to see the voting patterns county by county.

Population:

With 4,955,925 residents according to the 2014-18 American Community Survey, South Carolina is the most populous of the Primary Election states so far. As the following population density map shows, the state has pockets of strong Republican support in the north as well as the eastern part of the state (Myrtle Beach area), while Democratic support clusters more in the middle of the state, as well as in cities like Florence, Charleston and Columbia.

State Demographics:

To learn more about the people of South Carolina, we examined demographics using the 2014-2018 American Community Survey available on SocialExplorer.com.

  • South Carolina’s population is 67.3 percent white, making it the second state in the primaries so far that is less white than the nation as whole (72.8 percent white).
  • The state is 27 percent black or African-American (more than twice the rate for the entire the US and multiples of the rates in the first two primary states–Iowa and New Hampshire).  
  • South Carolina’s Hispanic population is 5.6 percent, approximately one third the rate for the country as a whole (17.8 percent).
  • The state's median age of 39.2 years old is 1.3 years older that the national median age (37.9 years old).
  • South Carolina’s high school graduation rate is very close to that for the US as a whole (87.1 percent of adults 25 years old or over compared to 87.7 percent), while the rate of South Carolinians with college diplomas lags more (27.4 percent compared to 31.5 percent).
  • Nevada's median income of $51,015 is 15.4 percent lower than the nation's median income ($60,293).

Among these demographic facts, the state’s African American population has been a major point of focus for both campaigns and the media to see how the Democrats will fare as the 2020 primaries unfold. Not only does the state have a higher proportion of African American voters, but that voting strength is even more pronounced within the Democratic Party. Gibbs Knotts, a College of Charleston political science professor and co-author of First in the South: Why South Carolina's Presidential Primary Matters, said that 61 percent of South Carolina’s Democratic Primary voters in 2016 were black.

Religion:

Eager to connect with South Carolina voters, the presidential contenders have been making visits to churches along the campaign trail, and quoting scripture in their ads. Gibbs highlighted the religious background of the state’s voters in a Vox.com article about the primary, “South Carolina Democrats are more religious; they are a little more moderate than national Democrats.”

Social Explorer's religion data from The Association of religion Data Archives (collected by Infogroup – American Church Lists and the Religious Congregations and Membership Study) offers rich detail about the religious adherence and diversity of the US. According to the data, South Carolinians are more likely to be members of a major religion (52.2 percent compared to 48.8 percent of the US). The following maps of the nation and South Carolina help illustrate the different faith traditions represented.

Among the faithful, Evangelical Protestant is the most common religious affiliation in the state (58.5 percent), and nearly two thirds of adherents belong to the Southern Baptist Convention. The next most prominent religious affiliation is Mainline Protestant (20 percent of the state’s religious residents), 56.9 percent of them belonging to the United Methodist Church. South Carolina also has many churchgoers who are Black Protestant (10.6 percent of the state’s adherents), with 47.2 of them members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and an additional 25.3 percent belonging to the National Baptist Convention.

As the maps illustrate, the mix of popular religions in South Carolina differs from other states (Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada) featured in the primaries so far. (Explore Social Explorer’s religion data and maps for more detail.)

The variety of Social Explorer maps also show that these visits to Black Protestant churches overlap with areas where Democratic voters reside. Stay tuned for more primary-themed blog posts as 2020 continues.

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