How politically involved are South Carolinians? According to one recent report, there are enthusiastic participants in some types of situations. But in other situations, residents tend to remain on the sidelines.
The South Carolina Civic Health Index compared Palmetto State residents to people living in rest of the country, including the District of Columbia. South Carolinians ranked 13th in voter registration, 14th in voting during the 2010 midterm elections and 19th in voting during the 2012 presidential election. But they were also 48th in contacting public officials and 46th in boycotting products.
Among the social strength indicators measured, Palmetto State residents were 30th in exchanging favors with neighbors frequently, 38th in having trust in neighbors and 44th in attending public meetings about town or school affairs.
The University of South Carolina Upstate and the National Conference on Citizenship released the report earlier this month. Its data came primarily from the 2012 U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey on Voting, Volunteering and Civic Engagement.
“This report shows that too many of us aren’t likely to stay politically engaged after leaving the voting booth and that too many of us are disconnected from our communities and each other,” said Abraham Goldberg, the report’s author and a professor at the University of South Carolina Upstate.
Bob Botsch, a professor of political science at USC Aiken, questioned the report’s statistics for voter participation.
“I would be very careful about accepting these rankings because turnout figures are very sensitive to exactly how they are calculated,” he said. “I have not seen any other figures that show South Carolina that high.”
Botsch mentioned a Nonprofit Vote study in which the Palmetto State ranked only 38th in voter turnout for the 2012 presidential election.
“On the other hand,” Botsch added, “I’m not surprised that we rank low in what social scientists call ‘social capital.’ This is a result of low education levels in which we do not understand politics or relationships between citizens and government actions and inactions. It is also the product of a cultural value of highly exaggerated self-reliance and individualism.”
Aiken County Republican Party Chairman K.T. Ruthven offered a couple of explanations for why South Carolinians don’t participate much in some forms of political activity.
“I think people are pleased with the job that our elected officials are doing in South Carolina and Aiken County, so they don’t feel a need to be involved,” he said. “We also have an overwhelming majority of elected officials who are Republican and overall the population seems to be very conservative, so they don’t disagree much with the opinions of elected officials.”
Moses Mims, who is the communications director for the Aiken County Democratic Party, said he has noticed “a lackadaisical attitude on the part of some voters in terms of coming out to participate in public events.”
According to several elected officials in Aiken County and the surrounding area, their constituents don’t seem to be too reluctant in contacting them.
“I operate out of my insurance and real estate business, and constituents feel free to walk in,” said S.C. Rep. Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta. “I average seeing two a day, and I’ve had as many as five with different problems come by.”
S.C. Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville, described attendance at his town hall meetings as “very sparse,” but added that his constituents “rank very high” in contacting him for assistance with state and federal agencies.
S.C. Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, hears frequently from members of the black community about their concerns.
“They call me concerning elections, community activities, government affairs and a number of other things,” he said. “They call me even though they don’t live in my district or close to it.”
S.C. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, said he receives “lots of emails and phone calls” from constituents.
S.C. Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said that based on “the number of emails in my inbox,” the level at which constituents communicate with him isn’t low.
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.