South Carolina

Okay, Newt won in South Carolina, and Romney’s march to the nomination has encountered a bump in the road – though temporary, I’m thinking.

But the whole SC primary, and the fact that state, with a large blue-collar population and significant poverty, has voted Republican, often by substantial margins, in all but one presidential race since 1964 (the exception being Jimmy Carter in `76), reminds me of something I turn over in my head occasionally, and that is why people vote the way they do.

Merrill Goozner, a really good economics journalist writing in Fiscal Times (he also has his own blog, Gooznews), has a piece on why SC goes red, when, on the face of it, one would perhaps expect a state with relatively high rates of poverty and unemployment and with a significant portion of its population relying on some form of public support, to at least lean Dem. Cultural values and a populist distrust of Big Government (perhaps the residue of 1960s civil rights legislation, I’m guessing) outweigh economics, which shouldn’t be entirely surprising.

The New York Times had one of its Room for Debate roundtable discussions on this subject this past Friday.

A long time ago, my father, a staunch, quite conservative Republican (as was I until my mid-20s), told me memories of the Depression were what kept Democrats in office. “A guy will do into the polls,” he said, “and he’ll plan to vote Republican, but then he’ll slap his wallet and think, ‘I can’t do that’.”

Compare that to the quote from a local in one of the Washington Post’s primary analysis stories: “I think Mitt Romney is a good man,” said Harold Wade, 85, . . . . “But I think we’ve reached a point where we need someone who’s mean.”

It’s been gospel for decades on the liberal/progressive side that Americans would vote for a party that pledged economic security and protection from the powerful. But voting is not a wholly rational exercise. Those economic considerations were deeply undercut in the 1960s, with the tumult and divisions over civil rights and Vietnam, and we must never forget that perceptions about character and personality often weigh heavily on people’s voting decisions – including mine, I add. Whether the Great Recession makes people think more about economics and less about culture and appearances remains to be seen.



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