Analyzing the South Carolina Gubernatorial Election, Part 1

This is the first part of three posts analyzing the 2010 South Carolina gubernatorial election, in which Republican Nikki Haley won a closer-than-expected victory over Democrat Vincent Sheheen. The main focus of these posts will be to explore whether a racial effect accounted for Ms. Haley’s unexpected poor performance.

The next post can be found here.

(Note: This is also part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections.)


More below.

It was the October, 2010 in South Carolina. Nikki Haley, Republican candidate for South Carolina governor, was cruising. She was a conservative candidate – endorsed by none other than Sarah Palin herself – running in a conservative state, in the best Republican year in a generation.

Opinion polls showed the Republican politician leading by double-digits. Even the most pessimistic gave Ms. Haley a high single digit lead.

On election day, however, Ms. Haley won by only 4.5%:


(Note: Edited NYT Image)

What could have accounted for Ms. Haley’s poor performance?

Several factors come to mind. Ms. Haley was not an uncontroversial candidate; her positions were conservative even for South Carolina. The Democratic candidate, Vincent Sheheen, might have been an unnaturally talented campaigner. And there is always the factor of randomness to take into account. There were hundreds of races in November; the polls would inevitably be inaccurate on one or two, and this race just happened to be one of them.

Or perhaps there is another explanation – a particularly ugly one, but one that lurks at the back of everybody’s head. Ms. Haley was an woman of Indian heritage running to govern South Carolina, a state with not exactly the most innocent racial history. Throughout the campaign, Ms. Haley was subject to attacks that implicitly played up the racial angle: she had had affairs with white men (unfortunately for the accusers, this attack doesn’t work as well against women), she wasn’t Christian or was only pretending to be one, and so on.

It is not unimaginable that a sort of Bradley effect took place in South Carolina, that a number of normally steadfast Republicans balked at voting for the first non-white and female governor in history.

This is a serious accusation, and therefore needs serious evidence. The next post will therefore begin an extensive examination of whether Ms. Haley’s race undermined her performance.


27 thoughts on “Analyzing the South Carolina Gubernatorial Election, Part 1”

  1. 1. What exactly is Hailey’s home area?  In SC it seems like the GOP candidates are either Greenville/Spartenburg or Charleston based.  Lindsay Graham is an exception.  It seems to be me by observation that Hailey was weak in Charleston & did not do as well as some candidates in Greenville area.  Either way she did well enough in Lexington but did poorly in Richland county.  Her hometown effect seem minor to me. adequate but not great.

    2. The likelihood of a GE win in SC if you win the GOP primary is making that process more brutal.  The primary for Governor this year in SC set, in my opinion, a new low for cut throat campaigning.  The wounds appear to be deep.  

    That’s it for me.

  2. If I recall we came within 10 of beating sanford in 06 and in 02 The Incumbent was a Democrat who lost to Sanford.  

  3. That doesn’t happen often for a Democrat, especially while losing. Race may have played a factor, as Sheheen outperformed Obama’s 2008 number, which was very surprising.

  4. I’d like to see Sheheen back in 2014, or even running for House next year. It strikes me that Sen. Graham is very vulnerable in 2014, and I doubt he’ll survive a primary; there’s also the matter of demographic change in the Palmetto State, which could push the state closer to being competitive for Democrats. Hell, Rep. Joe “You Lie” Wilson was brought to single digits by a challenger who flew under the radar for most of the cycle last year in a gangbusters year for Republicans nationally.

  5. I’ve read SSP for a while, but have never posted. This diary really grabbed by attention.

    I’m a young, Latino conservative independent from the Greenville, SC burbs. Greenville county is the largest, most urban, most affluent, educated, fastest growing and most conservative area of the state. It forms the hub for the highly conservative area in North SC known as the Upstate. If it weren’t for the upstate, SC might me a swing state. The Upstate, particularly heavily populated Greenville, puts the state in the republican column.

    Several important points about the 2010 election:

    -The democrat, Sheheen, was a credible candidate who ran an excellent campaign. He is also one of the first Democrats to attempt to contend the upstate, realizing that if he didn’t cut republican margins there, he would surely lose.  

    -Haley ran a very, very poor campaign. After winning the primary in a tea party wave, she alienated both independents and tea parties (including myself) by seriously backtracking on many proposals, including announcing support for a grocery tax, dropping several transparency pledges and much, much more. ( I can provide a lot of local news articles and blog posts to those who are interested).

    Furthermore, new revelations about Haley further eroded her standing among both conservatives and independents. She was found to have lied about her income taxes on top of being fined for paying them late. She also lied about a lobbying position at a Lexington County Medical Center. Further evidence about her supposed affairs also surfaced. If you look at the polls, Haley dropped from an 18 point lead in August, to a 6 point lead a week before the election. Sheheen’s numbers hardly changed.

    -In the final weeks, Sheheen hit hard, blasting Haley for her lies, and further eroding voters trust in her. At the same time, he ran very far to the right. Sheheen tried to erode Haley’s margins among social conservatives in Greenville county. And boy did he try. He ran ads on Christian stations, read from the Bible about trust and righteousness, and ran TV ads showing him praying. He also tried to assure everyone that he was the true fiscal conservative.

    -As you next diary shows, Sheheen partly succeeded. He cut down Haley’s margins in the Upstate, and became the first Democrat in a long time to push a Republican below 60% in Greenville County (Haley got 59%). I believe his success came in attracting social conservatives or at least making them have doubts about Haley.  Sheheen was not, however, able to attract votes from the many new SC Residents, most of whom are recent transplants, live in the developing burbs, and are very fiscally conservative. Most of these voters had no interest in voting for a Democrat and pulled the straight ticket GOP lever. This pattern is evident in the Greenville East Side (Population 200,000+) and in York county (the Charlotte exurbs).

    It’s worth noting that elsewhere in SC, Democrats got absolutely slaughtered. Even their articulate and progressive Superintendent of Education candidate, a man from Greenville (smart move given the nature of the area) went down in flames, losing to the no name the GOP primary produced, and failing to hold the seat for the Democrats. Hey, even the Chairman of the Budget Committee lost by 10 points.

    The race was about Haley and her repeated missteps and lies. SC is not turning blue.

    I know this is a long post, but I hope it sheds some light on some things. I can get some documentation and other info if anyone is interested.  

  6. Sheheen should make a comeback in statewide government.  If Haley is as much a bust as governor as she was a campaigner, it would be very possible to win in a better year.

  7. I too was somewhat surprised by the close nature of the election, given the way the GOP romped around the rest of the South.  Columbia is really starting to be a major Democratic city in the state, and as SC adds a new congressional district I’m curious how Republicans intend to restrict the Democrats to only the one VRA seat without weakening themselves elsewhere.  Joe Wilson also did very poorly despite becoming a GOP superstar this past election.

  8. Looks to me there are several reasons. Racism, a poor campaign from Haley, a good Sheheen campaign, Sanford fatigue and very possibly the beginnings of a trend where the state becomes less red. The president’s approval rating is also holding up quite well too.

  9. Looks to me there are several reasons. Racism, a poor campaign from Haley, a good Sheheen campaign, Sanford fatigue and very possibly the beginnings of a trend where the state becomes less red. The president’s approval rating is also holding up quite well too.

  10. all depends on how Haley governs. If she sucks up and makes amends to the CoC and other pro-business groups then she’s fine if not then she could, potentially, be vulnerable.  

  11. but your post was too short.  What’s the early reading on Haley after two months?  In fact I am curious as to what others instate have to say.  

  12. really a right-wing Democrat or did he just try to play one? And it’s one thing to cast yourself as a social conservative while being the more fiscally moderate to liberal one, even if you are closer to the fiscally conservative end. Did Shaheen run on a really fiscally conservative platform?

    I’d be curious to know more about these recent transplants. My impression was that they were less conservative than the state as a whole, even if they weren’t particularly liberal. Aside from the two areas you mentioned, what else is indicative of the behavior of these newcomers? I don’t mean this to sound rude, but so far, I’m not convinced that what you describe proves what you say as far as the transplants go.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t be so quick to say the state isn’t turning blue. The Obama campaign didn’t focus on the state that much in 2008, so with some reasonable improvements, it looks like it could fall in 2012.  

  13. August 18, 2010

    “Since capturing the GOP gubernatorial nomination over a field of uninspiring, establishment candidates two months ago, the darling of the Tea Party movement in South Carolina has moved methodically toward the “center” of the South Carolina political spectrum.  It’s been a bumpy ride, too, as embarrassing tax disclosures have exposed a candidate living beyond her means – and failing to pay her taxes on time (despite Haley touting her fiscal responsibility and expertise as an accountant on the campaign trail).  In the process, she’s also surrendered the one issue that led to her meteoric rise – government transparency – while cozying up to some of the state’s biggest “Republicans in Name Only.” ”

    The above blog is an independent libertarian leaning site that like to take good shots at the lazy Republicans who run the state.

    She alienated the tea party, and gave Sheheen plenty of legitimate openings to shoot at her.  

  14. I love the colored circles.  My favorite diary of his to date was the one on CO from 1992-2010.  It’s where I learned of where where Colorado shifted towards the Democrats and that despite winning narrowly, Bennet won every county Obama won plus one.

  15. Its website has some amazing maps of margins.

    I just edit the pictures and add a bit of information.

    Most of the credit deserves to go to the NYT for its amazing graphics.

  16. Wilson ditching his part of Richland county and attaching that portion to a new seat that stretchs to the leftovers form CD4 with the connection being the western part of CD5.

    Rumour is that Horry county will be the new base for CD7 but I don’t like that idea.  SC republicans seem divided on this issue.  

  17. Most of the growth has been in Greenville, York, and Horry Counties. The new district could be placed in the upstate, or based in Horry county. Given that the current VRA district has shrunk (correct me if I’m wrong), I can easily see it expanding to pickup some more of Columbia, therefore enabling 6 GOP seats.  

  18. easier for in-state Democrats than it is for national ones. Hell, Shaheen kind of proved that this year. Perhaps he could be a House candidate as a warm-up for challenging Graham in 2014. Regardless of what he does in the mean time, however, he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on. 2014 doesn’t present us with many pick up opportunities, but this might be one of them.

    As for Wilson, remind me, how will his district likely change? Is it possible for us to be competitive in the newest district–I’m trying to remember if it needs to be VRA–plus whichever one Wilson ends up in?

  19. In an article in The Atlantic, I was surprised to read that in some parts of the state, it’s still not considered normal for a woman to work outside of the home. That sort of sentiment, plus similar ones, could easily come into play with a female candidate.  

  20. Democrats came within 4 points of picking up the Charleston-based 1st district in 2008.  The GOP easily retained it this year, but in future elections there is no guarantee it doesn’t start to slip away again.  Perhaps the SC GOP could figure out how to run one long district across both cities, making one super-Dem district for Rep. Clyburn, but then I’d wonder where they would get the population to get the 1st full again.

    The Northwest corner of the state continues to be the population driver of SC, and it is the most GOP part of the state, but I do think at some point 6-1 may become untenable given the emerging Democratic strength of both Columbia and Charleston.

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