Monday, June 27, 2011

Is South Carolina the "place where presidents are chosen"?

A quote by a political consultant in The State newspaper jumped out and begged for attention.

Only a primary – not a caucus – will draw national attention to South Carolina, said Dawson, who recently quit as an adviser to former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s GOP presidential campaign, and Richard Quinn, a Columbia-based GOP operative who is advising former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s Republican presidential campaign.

“It would be the death of a tradition that began after Reagan,” Quinn said of ending the primary, which developed the reputation as “the place where presidents are chosen. It would be a tragedy,” Quinn said.

I've heard of Edgefield County being called the "home of governors," because 10 of South Carolina's governors were from that county. But I'd never heard of South Carolina being called the "place where presidents are chosen." It's a bit of a stretch, considering the outcomes of our electoral preferences of the past century.

Since (and including) 1900, there have been a total of 28 presidential elections. Because it's easy to ride a wave, I'm taking out the seven cases in which South Carolina just joined the bandwagon and voted to re-elect a winning incumbent: Woodrow Wilson in 1916; Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, 1940 and 1944; Richard Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1984, and George W. Bush in 2004.

That leaves 21 presidential elections to consider.

In four of these, South Carolina gave its electoral votes to the winning candidate who took an open seat: John Kennedy in 1960, Richard Nixon in 1968, George H.W. Bush in 1988 and George W. Bush in 2000. And in four cases, South Carolina chose a candidate who defeated an incumbent president: Woodrow Wilson in 1912, Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Ronald Reagan in 1980.

That's eight times that South Carolinian electors took a risk, stuck out their chins and came home the victor.

But in seven cases, we supported a candidate who challenged an incumbent president and lost: William Jennings Bryan in 1900, Alton B. Parker in 1904, John W. Davis in 1924, Strom Thurmond in 1948, Adlai Stevenson in 1956, Barry Goldwater in 1964, and Bob Dole in 1996. And in five more cases, we gave our electoral votes to a candidate who failed to win an open seat: William Jennings Bryan in 1908, James Cox in 1920, Alfred E. Smith in 1928, Adlai Stevenson in 1952, and John McCain in 2008. In one instance, we voted for an incumbent president who lost his office to a challenger: George H.W. Bush in 1992.

That's a total of thirteen times that we took the same risk and lost.

So in head-to-head fights for open or occupied seats, our candidates have a success rate of only 38 percent.

Consider the same data another way: Since 1900, only 20 individuals have held the office of the presidency. In the case of 13 of them, South Carolina's electors failed to support the candidate who assumed or re-assumed office: William McKinley in 1900, Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, William Howard Taft in 1908, Warren Harding in 1920, Calvin Coolidge in 1924, Herbert Hoover in 1928, Harry S. Truman in 1948, Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, and Barack Obama in 2008.

That a success rate of only 35 percent: hardly the stuff of heady mottoes.

For your review, following is the list of candidates who won South Carolina's electoral votes in general presidential elections:
2008: Sen. John McCain (defeated)
2004: President G.W. Bush (re-elected)
2000: Governor G.W. Bush (won)
1996: Sen. Bob Dole (defeated)
1992: President G.H.W. Bush (defeated)
1988: Vice President G.H.W. Bush (won)
1984: President Ronald Reagan (re-elected)
1980: Governor Ronald Reagan (won)
1976: Governor Jimmy Carter (won)
1972: President Richard Nixon (re-elected)
1968: Vice President Richard Nixon (won)
1964: Sen. Barry Goldwater (defeated)
1960: Sen. John F. Kennedy (won)
1956: Vice President Adlai Stevenson (defeated)
1952: Vice President Adlai Stevenson (defeated)
1948: Governor Strom Thurmond (defeated)
1944: President Franklin D. Roosevelt (re-elected)
1940: President Franklin D. Roosevelt (re-elected)
1936: President Franklin D. Roosevelt (re-elected)
1932: President Franklin D. Roosevelt (won)
1928: Governor Alfred E. Smith (defeated)
1924: Ambassador John W. Davis (defeated)
1920: Governor James Cox (defeated)
1916: President Woodrow Wilson (re-elected)
1912: Governor Woodrow Wilson (won)
1908: Rep. William Jennings Bryan (defeated)
1904: Judge Alton B. Parker (defeated)
1900: Rep. William Jennings Bryan (defeated)

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