Politics is all about opinions and everyone has one. When it comes to partisan politics, our opinions are often based on what we read or see on TV, stereotypes and prejudice and sometimes facts. But not, too often, facts.
Like everyone else, I have my own political opinions and frequent readers of this space read a lot -- maybe too many -- of my political opinions. So this column is about facts -- political facts about who are Democratic and Republican voters in South Carolina.
Unlike a lot of other states, in South Carolina, we don’t have voter registration by party affiliation so the only way to really know who is a Democrat and who is a Republican is to either ask them or look at primary elections, i.e., if someone shows up to vote in a Democratic or Republican primary, we can pretty safely assume they are a Democrat or a Republican.
This month, we have had the rare circumstance of having both a Democratic and Republican presidential primary one week apart. And because they were primary elections and far fewer people vote than in a general election, we get a look at who are the most hard core partisan voters.
Our friends at CNN have done us the great favor of conducting exit polls of voters in these two presidential primaries and they put the full results on their 2016 Election Central website. These polls are particularly interesting because they were done by the same high quality professional company, using the same methods, in the same time period and asking many questions with the exact same wording.
So, what did these polls tell us? Some responses were what you would expect based on common stereotypes but some of the results may surprise you.
Gender: Democratic voters are significantly more female than male; Republicans are evenly split. Democrats -- 39 percent men, 61 percent women and Republicans -- 51 percent men, 49 percent women.
Age: On either end of the age spectrum, more Democrats are younger and more Republicans are older; in the middle years, they look about the same. Democrats -- 17-29, 15 percent; 30-44, 20 percent; 45-64, 47 percent; 65 and older, 19 percent. Republicans -- 17-19, 5 percent; 30-44, 17 percent; 45-64, 46 percent; 65 and older, 27 percent.
Race: It will come as no surprise African-Americans are more D than R: Democrats -- white, 25 percent; black, 61 percent; Latino, 2 percent; Asian 1 percent. And Republicans are virtually all white: Republicans -- white, 96 percent; black, 1 percent; Latino, 1 percent; Asian 0 percent.
Education: The results based on education may surprise you. The stereotype of Democrats being poorly educated and Republicans being well educated is just not so in South Carolina. There were some small differences but not a whole lot. Democrats -- high school or less, 23 percent; some college, 37 percent; college graduate, 24 percent; postgraduate, 16 percent. Republicans -- high school or less, 16 percent; some college, 30 percent; college graduate, 33 percent; postgraduate, 21 percent.
Income: On the income scale, the stereotypes hold more true than with education. Democrats -- less than $30K, 33 percent; $30-50K, 28 percent; $50-100K, 24 percent; $100-200K, 13 percent; $200K or more, 2 percent. Republicans -- less than $30K, 10 percent; $30-50K, 17 percent; $50-100K, 37 percent; $100-200K, 26 percent; $200K or more, 10 percent.
Ideology: Traditional measures of political ideology show the greatest difference. There are very few Democratic voters who call themselves conservative; and virtually no Republican who calls themselves a liberal. Democrats -- conservative, 11 percent; moderate, 35 percent; liberal, 54 percent. Republicans -- conservative, 81 percent; moderate, 17 percent; liberal, 1 percent.
Most important issue: When it comes to what each party’s voters think is the most important issue, there is a fairly sharp difference. Democrats -- health care, 21 percent; economy/jobs, 44 percent; terrorism, 10 percent; income inequality, 10 percent. Republicans -- immigration, 10 percent; economy/jobs, 29 percent; terrorism, 32 percent; government spending, 26 percent.
Economic outlook: Though there are some gradations in attitudes, both parties’ voters are worried a lot about the U.S. economy. Democrats -- very worried, 50 percent; somewhat worried, 34 percent; not too worried, 14 percent; not worried at all, 1 percent. Republicans -- very worried, 72 percent; somewhat worried, 14 percent; not too worried, 2; not worried at all, 0 percent.
Urban, suburban or rural: There is no great surprise here; Democrats are more numerous in rural areas and Republicans dominate the suburbs. Democrats -- urban, 13 percent; suburban, 27 percent; rural, 60 percent. Republicans -- urban, 23 percent; suburban, 48 percent; rural, 29 percent.
Region of the state: The traditional stereotype of the Upstate being full of Republicans and the Lowcountry full of Democrats is not really true. Though the general state division holds, it’s not by a lot. Democrats -- Upstate, 18 percent; Piedmont 11, percent; Midlands, 34 percent; Pee Dee, 15 percent; Lowcountry 23 percent. Republicans -- Upstate, 29 percent; Piedmont, 13 percent; Midlands, 23 percent; Pee Dee, 15 percent, Lowcountry, 20 percent.
Although most of the questions were the same for both primaries’ voters, some questions were different and provided some interesting insights. Contrary to stereotypes, a lot of Democrats own guns: 41 percent do own guns and 59 percent don’t. More than half of Democrats go to church at least once a week; more than once a week, 27 percent; once a week, 26 percent; a few times a month, 16 percent; a few times a year, 19 percent; never, 11 percent.
The popular perception S.C. Republicans are a cold and calculating lot who only care about winning is not wholly accurate. When asked what was the most important thing in choosing a candidate, only 15 percent chose electability, it ranked 4th -- “far behind shares my values” at 37 percent, “can bring change” at 31 percent and “tells it like it is” at 16 percent.
So, what does all this jumble of numbers tell us?
First, we are more alike than we think we are. Second, neither side is as one-dimensional as the other side thinks they are. And third, we should all slow down and really listen to each other and not just make assumptions based on knee jerk, partisan stereotypes.
And, most of all, thanks to everyone, on both sides, who cares enough to take the time to vote … and answer all these questions.