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What's So Special About South Carolina?

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The Palmetto State is one of nearly two-dozen states with a perfect record in picking eventual GOP presidential nominees since 1980

southcarolinaseal10.jpgThe importance of Saturday's South Carolina primary has been elevated due in part to the media chatter about how the state always "picks winners" in Republican presidential elections, dating back to Ronald Reagan in 1980.

In short, the media mantra is: "As South Carolina goes, so goes the nomination."

And while that certainly has been the case over the last eight election cycles (with GOP nominees facing competitive primaries in six: 1980, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2008), the feat is not quite as noteworthy as it might suggest at first blush.

A Smart Politics review of Republican primary election results over the last few decades finds that South Carolina is one of 20 states that have backed the eventual Republican presidential nominee in all of its primaries or caucuses since 1980.

In addition to South Carolina, the states of California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin also have an unblemished record in backing the eventual GOP nominee over the past 30 years.

Of course, if there is any predictive value associated with how a given state votes in the primary process, it would admittedly be greater for those falling early on the primary calendar (such as South Carolina today) as opposed to a state such as Idaho, which consistently holds its primary late in the season when most candidates have already exited the race.

That being said, South Carolina's primary has not always been jutted up at the beginning of the election calendar, as it has been since the turn of the century when it landed one of the first five contests during the 2000, 2008, and 2012 cycles.

From 1980 through 1996, the Palmetto State's earliest placement was 10th on the Republican calendar:

· In 1980, South Carolina held its primary after the Iowa, Hawaii, Maine, Arkansas, Wyoming, and Minnesota caucuses and the New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont primaries.

· In the next contested GOP race in 1988, the South Carolina primary came after the Michigan, Kansas, Hawaii, Iowa, Wyoming, Nevada, Minnesota, Maine, and Alaska caucuses, and the New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Vermont primaries.

· In 1992, the South Carolina primary was conducted after the Nevada, Iowa, Maine, and Alaska caucuses and the New Hampshire, South Dakota, Colorado, Georgia, and Maryland primaries.

· In 1996, the state held its GOP primary behind the Hawaii, Alaska, Louisiana, and Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire, Delaware, Arizona, North Dakota, and South Dakota primaries.

Still, most of the states listed above do not share South Carolina's unblemished record over the last few decades and, as a result, perhaps Palmetto State voters deserve some recognition for their collective endorsement of the eventual Republican nominee.

That is to say, nearly all of the other 19 states with perfect records since 1980 have seen their primary or caucus dates generally land in the middle or latter part of the election season, or at least later than South Carolina's on average.

And which states have the worst track record in voting for the eventual Republican nominee?

Since 1980, four states have failed to cast their primary or caucus ballots for the eventual nominee three times: Alaska, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Michigan:

· Alaskans voted for Pat Robertson in 1988, Pat Buchanan in 1996, and Mitt Romney in 2008.

· Iowans voted for George H.W. Bush in 1980, Bob Dole in 1988, and Mike Huckabee in 2008.

· Massachusetts voters backed George H.W. Bush in 1980, John McCain in 2000, and Mitt Romney in 2008.

· Michigan residents likewise voted for George H.W. Bush in 1980, John McCain in 2000, and Mitt Romney in 2008.

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2 Comments


  • Nothing special. They picked the last 5 of 5 for a 100% batting average? There have been 42 presidential elections. That would statistically give them an 8.4%. Minor league... I love spin doctors. It ain't over 'til it's over.

  • Newt Gingrich wins South Carolina primary.....Just in case you hadn't heard.

    Oh, and by the way: He's quitting on Tuesday.....

  • Leave a comment


    Remains of the Data

    No Free Passes: States With 2 Major Party Candidates in Every US House Race

    Indiana has now placed candidates from both major parties on the ballot in a nation-best 189 consecutive U.S. House races, with New Hampshire, Minnesota, Idaho, and Montana also north of 100 in a row.

    Political Crumbs

    Gubernatorial Highs and Lows

    Two sitting governors currently hold the record for the highest gubernatorial vote ever received in their respective states by a non-incumbent: Republican Matt Mead of Wyoming (65.7 percent in 2010) and outgoing GOPer Dave Heineman of Nebraska (73.4 percent in 2006). Republican Gary Herbert of Utah had not previously won a gubernatorial contest when he notched a state record 64.1 percent for his first victory in 2010, but was an incumbent at the time after ascending to the position in 2009 after the early departure of Jon Huntsman. Meanwhile, two sitting governors hold the record in their states for the lowest mark ever recorded by a winning gubernatorial candidate (incumbent or otherwise): independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (36.1 percent in 2010) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (47.8 percent in 2013).


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