Early Takes on Trump: South Carolina By Allison Pingley
South Carolina has consistently given its electoral votes to the Republican candidate ever since the 1980 presidential election. The 2016 election was no exception, with Donald Trump receiving all nine of South Carolina’s electoral votes after winning 55 percent of the state’s popular vote (31/46 counties).
The Republican Party dominates at the state level as well. Republicans have controlled the State Senate since 2001, and the State House since 1995. Additionally, at the end of 2016, Gallup classified South Carolina as a solid Republican state after finding that 48.2 percent of South Carolinians identified themselves as Republican/lean Republican (as opposed to 36.1 percent who identified as Democrat/lean Democrat).
Given South Carolina’s red-state status, it is not surprising that there is higher approval of Trump in the state than nationally. How much larger the support is depends on which polls you examine. Winthrop University polls in February and April both found Trump’s approval in South Carolina – 44 percent and 43 percent respectively – to be only slightly higher than the national average of 41 percent as reported by Gallup on April 11, 2017. However, a poll released by the Trafalgar Group on March 7, 2017, found that 58 percent of South Carolinians approved of Trump’s performance as president.
While the Trafalgar Group did correctly predict that Trump would win the presidential election and win by 15 percentage points in South Carolina, it is considered to be a right-leaning consultant group and opacity surrounds its polling methods. For example, the Trafalgar Group did not state how its sample was chosen, the method used to conduct the survey, or a margin of error.
The Winthrop University poll is more straightforward in its methodology, but has been criticized for polling the general population instead of sampling only likely voters. Therefore, it is hard to decipher the exact level of support in South Carolina, but it appears to be at least somewhat higher than the national average.
Part of this support may be related to the level of religiosity in South Carolina. According to Gallup, 52 percent of South Carolinians identified as “very religious” compared to 38 percent nationally. Another 29 percent identified as moderately religious, meaning that 81 percent of South Carolinians consider themselves at least somewhat religious. When looking at how people voted nationally based on religion, CNN exit polls showed that 53 percent of people who attended religious services once or more a month, and 80 percent of people who consider themselves born-again voted for Trump.
Aside from higher levels of support for Trump, South Carolinians are also more optimistic about the state of the economy. Approximately 65 percent of South Carolinians labeled the national economy as fairly good or very good (Winthrop University, 4/13/17), which is almost twice the amount of confidence than the 33 percent of people nationally who rated the economy as excellent or good (Gallup, 4/11/17). Additionally, 56 percent of South Carolinians said the national economy was getting better compared to only 46 percent of all Americans.
The likely reason for the increased optimism of South Carolinians is the state’s growing economy. At the 36th Annual Economic Outlook Conference held in December, economists from the University of South Carolina reported that job creation in South Carolina continues to increase while unemployment decreases. The manufacturing and professional and business sectors were the top two industries creating jobs, especially higher-wage jobs.
Since people are apt to judge the economy based on its condition in their area, it makes sense that South Carolinians would view the national economy as healthier. The view of economy by voters also affects presidential approval – with people more willing to support the incumbent when economic conditions are good.
Overall, the view of Trump by most South Carolinians is wait and see. While Trump may not always act as a traditional Republican, party loyalty runs deep in South Carolina. Additionally, cues from most religious leaders – especially evangelical leaders – have been to support Trump. Therefore, support in South Carolina is likely to remain higher than it is nationally at least for the time being.
Allison Pingley is Associate Professor of Political Science at The University of South Carolina Upstate.