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.

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