Diversity and moderation over tradition – why Democrats moved South Carolina to the start of the 2024 presidential campaign
Published in News & Features
The Democratic National Committee approved a proposal on Feb. 4, 2023, that puts South Carolina first on the party’s presidential nominating calendar, upending 50 years of tradition. For the first time, voters of color, moderates, hourly workers – and Southerners – will have the first say in choosing the party’s nominee.
President Biden weighed in on changes to the nominating calendar in a Dec. 1, 2022, letter to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee . He wrote that early nominating states should reflect the diversity of the party and nation and that time-consuming caucuses, like those held in Iowa, should no longer be a part of the process because they disadvantage hourly workers and others who can’t take the required time away from work.
“For decades, Black voters in particular have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process,” he wrote. “We rely on these voters in elections but have not recognized their importance in our nominating calendar. It is time to stop taking these voters for granted, and time to give them a louder and earlier voice in the process.”
The new early-state lineup shakes up the old order. Instead of Iowa, then New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, it puts South Carolina first, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire a few days later, then Georgia and Michigan. Iowa, which has kicked off the process since 1972, is noticeably absent from the early voting.
The lineup drew criticism from party leaders in both Iowa and New Hampshire. And the DNC had to grant Georgia and New Hampshire more time to change their primary dates. If ultimately they are unable to meet the new deadline of June 3, 2023, they will lose the ability to hold a DNC-approved early nominating contest. The states’ party leaders, though, say the challenges they face are not easily solvable.
In Georgia, primary dates are determined by the secretary of state’s office, not state party leaders. In New Hampshire, state officials and Democrats have said they will follow state law and hold their primary first, regardless of the DNC calendar. But bucking the DNC’s nominating calendar opens up the state Democratic Party to sanctions, including the automatic loss of half its delegates.
As political scientists in South Carolina, we understand how important the state’s primary is to the Democratic Party. Working at the College of Charleston for over a decade, we have seen dozens of campaign visits and events by presidential hopefuls of both parties to our city and campus.
Given our front-row seats, we wrote “First in South: Why South Carolina’s Presidential Primary Matters,” a book about South Carolina’s primary process. Published in 2020, it examines South Carolina’s demographic makeup, the state’s primary electorate and how it compares with each party’s typical national primary and caucus voter.
What we learned was, on several key metrics, South Carolina voters are a better reflection of the demographic diversity and moderate stance on issues the party prioritizes than voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.
For our analysis, we used presidential primary exit poll data similar to the data reported by CNN, from every state from 2000 to 2016. We compared each state’s demographic profile with the Republican and Democratic parties’ national averages on 12 common exit poll questions – including age, education level, income, race and views on specific issues – to get a picture of the South Carolina electorate and how it compares with typical voters of both parties.