South Carolina voters better enjoy it while it lasts

by Katie P. Kelly, Rob Richie // Published January 20, 2012
south carolina

With the South Carolina primary just around the corner on Saturday, the preferences of South Carolina voters are of intense interest to the nation -and of course to the candidates swarming the states. Events, polls, debates and the media are all focused on South Carolina voters.

Today alone, GOP candidates are holding a combined 16 events throughout the state . Even comedian Stephen Colbert is holding a rally with Herman Cain, and the online world is full of chatter about Newt Gingrich's showdown with the media in last night's debate and who took home the prize for best debater of the night. There have been five total debates in South Carolina since politicians first started announcing their candidacy - three in the past week alone.

But after Saturday? Forget it. South Carolina will be lucky to see a presidential candidate in the next four years - -indeed, they may hardly see whoever is elected president until 2016. The state and its voters effectively won't matter once they cast their vote on Saturday.

It's all a product of our November election rules. Because South Carolina has a law to allocate all its electoral votes to the winner of the state, and since the outcome in November is not in question (a Republican is sure to carry the state in a nationally competitive year), there will be no incentive for the Republican nominee to return once the primary is over.

President Barack Obama will almost certainly skip the state as well. In fact, according to our Presidential Tracker, the president has visited South Carolina zero times since taking office in January of 2009. That's right. Zero.  In contrast, he has held 14 separate events in neighboring North Carolina, which is also more likely to be a November battleground.

Just take a look at the two charts below that show a general news trend of interest in South Carolina voters and politics. The 2008 spike in interest in South Carolina and its voters is quite noticeable, but so too is the four-year drought in between presidential elections. Now, the cycle is just repeating itself again this month as interest in South Carolina climbs back up during this year's primary season -- its inevitable decline on the horizon.

So South Carolina soon will find themselves back in the undesirable position of "safe state" and be excluded from the national conversation come November.  It's one alone. Truly, most states don't matter in presidential elections in November. Thanks to current state rules governing the Electoral College-- specifically, the winner-take-all system that 48 of our 50 states use -- about 40 states will be effective spectators in the general elections. All the hail storm of promotional ads, fancy suits, political rhetoric, and rallying cries will be in the familiar states of Ohio, Florida and the like. For South Carolina? Just a memory.

The best way to make every voter matter in every election is the National Popular Vote plan. South Carolina in fact had a debate about the idea, with CSPAN coverage . Former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, a 2008 Republican presidential candidate, was among those championing the NPV proposal. The proposal keeps making steady progress and has a real chance to be in place in 2016.

There are less than 48 hours of relevancy left for South Carolina voters. We hope they enjoy it while it lasts. Presidential candidates probably won't be back for another four years.  

Learn more about the national popular vote plan for electing the president