Friday, October 23, 2015

South Carolina Democrats Are Not Getting Snubbed

Democrats in the Palmetto state may feel like they are getting snubbed by the candidates vying for the party's presidential nomination, but they aren't.

The National Journal's Adam Wollner digs into some of the theories floating around South Carolina -- Clinton has a big lead in the polling conducted in the state mainly -- to explain the deficit. Collectively, however, they fall short of providing the context necessary to understand what is happening in the first in the South primary state.

Apples to Oranges comparisons
Comparing the state of play in the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination race to the 2016 Republican process or the 2008 Democratic battle is imperfect. Partly that is a function of the varying levels of competition in those respective nomination races, but another contributing factor is that there just are not as many candidates fighting for the 2016 Democratic nomination as there were in the 2008 race or are in the 2016 Republican primary. More candidates yield more visits. And that trend is enhanced when there is also a comparatively higher level of competition among a larger group of candidates.

Context and Iowa
One way to shoot down the perception that South Carolina is getting snubbed and to highlight the above point is to compare the attention South Carolina receives from the candidates to that which Iowa receives (within cycles). In other words, compared to Iowa, what is the share of attention -- candidate visits -- South Carolina is receiving?

During the competitive 2004 Democratic primary race -- one that was both contested and had more candidates involved than is the case in 2016 -- South Carolina had 183 visits (see Ridout and Rottinghaus 2008). Iowa was visited by the Democratic candidates 860 times. South Carolina, then, had approximately one-fifth the number of visits that Iowa did in 2004. Four years later, South Carolina had 143 Democratic visits as compared to 1214 to Iowa (see Putnam 2009). In 2008, South Carolina had roughly 10% of the visits that Iowa received.

In 2016?

As Wollner points out, so far this year, Iowa has had the Democratic candidates come calling 91 times. South Carolina has only had the candidates on the ground campaigning for just 19 days. That is a ratio that is comparable to the one South Carolina visit for every five in Iowa witnessed in the 2004 cycle.

Looking at the just the raw numbers, visits are down for both (and across the board for all states for that matter). But, again, that is a function of the number of candidates involved in the race and how competitive it is.

There is one other factor that feeds into the perception of being snubbed in the Palmetto state. Democrats there and elsewhere have not seen a competitive primary race since 2008. None of them really like the prospect of sitting on the sidelines in 2016. In South Carolina, Democratic activists and voters see Bernie Sanders doing quite well in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire and that that has not translated down South. Again, those folks do not want to be on the sidelines for four or eight more years awaiting a competitive presidential nomination race. They want a piece of the action that Iowa and New Hampshire are getting.

But the thing is, neither the Hawkeye state nor the Granite state are really getting the attention either. There just are not enough candidates involved nor is the race competitive enough (see polling, endorsements and fundraising).

It also bears mentioning that of all the carve-out states, South Carolina is the least competitive in the general election phase of the presidential election process. If the Clinton campaign has one eye on the general election, then that May also push her to Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada more. That does not appear to be the case at this point, however.

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