The number of South Carolinians voting straight-ticket is sickening


Pursuant to a conversation some of us had earlier about the election results, our own Doug Ross took it upon himself to crunch some numbers. And what he came up with was appalling.

Here’s his spreadsheet. Read it and weep. I almost did.

As you know, I get thoroughly disgusted at the idea that anyone, anywhere in this nation, would cop out of his duty as a citizen to the extent of voting a straight party ticket. That an American citizen, much less a fellow South Carolinian, would completely forego the responsibility of carefully considering each candidate, and surrender his precious birthright to anything so low and destructive as a political party — letting the party choose and think for him, on the most important decisions he must make as a citizen — is utterly shocking to me.

I don’t think the straight-party option should exist on ballots. It should be constitutionally banned. Short of that, I think the device should be used as a test to see whether you’re ready for the responsibility of voting: Choose the straight-ticket option, and your entire ballot should automatically be thrown out. If you can’t be bothered to think about each candidate and each position, you don’t deserve the franchise.

Given my thoughts on the matter, you can imagine my horror at the numbers Doug put together (based, I think, on the election commission’s numbers — Doug can elaborate on that).

According to Doug’s spreadsheet, almost half — 49 percent — of all voters in South Carolina Tuesday chose the straight-ticket option. Half of our fellow citizens just… couldn’t be bothered… to carefully consider each decision with which they were entrusted. They just made one decision — to not make any decisions for themselves, leaving them all to a party.

Twenty-three percent of them chose straight Republican; 25 percent went straight Democratic.

The numbers choosing a straight-party vote were particularly horrible in poorer, more rural counties, where the preference was usually Democratic. In Lee County, 72 percent of ballots were straight-ticket. The percentages weren’t as bad in the suburbs, but the raw numbers almost were.

Why, oh why, do people even bother to register to vote, if this is all they’re going to do?

31 thoughts on “The number of South Carolinians voting straight-ticket is sickening

  1. Teresa

    Alternative argument from a straight ticket voter: it was a protest vote. As a Democrat I live in a state with essentially one party rule (particularly in the upstate.) It does not matter how corrupt or incompetent that the Republican is, he or she is going to win. I vote a straight ticket as a way of saying, “Not everyone agrees with you. There is a substantial block of people in this state who think your priorities are wrong. Pay attention to us.” What other way is there to get that message across for the average citizen?

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Nice way to think, imho!!
      I chose to “reward” the somewhat decent Republican incumbents with my votes (Wilson, in particular) although I strongly disagree with many of his positions. Ditto, Graham.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      The way you get the message across is by making a deliberate decision to vote against the specific people you object to.

      And by, as Kathryn does, rewarding the people who do right to your way of thinking, regardless of party.

      Discern. Discriminate. Show that you notice when one candidate is better than another.

      This is going to be a Republican state for the foreseeable future. The GOP isn’t going to go, “Well, Teresa dropped the big one on us, boys! We’d better all become Democrats…” They’re just not going to notice your protest among the other 314,799 people who did what you did.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        No, but I know I’d feel better running as a Democrat if I saw 40+% voted D, than if I only saw a handful…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, as I wrote way back in the 90s, when so many white Democrats were switching parties, I wish EVERYBODY would just go ahead and become a Republican, so that it doesn’t mean anything to anybody (it doesn’t mean anything anyway, but people IMAGINE that it does).

          Then, we’d be back to where we were when there were only Democrats in the South — you had to choose between your old guard and your young Turks, your immovable objects and your reformers. You had to THINK, and discern which was the better candidate. You couldn’t surrender your thinking to a party…

  2. Doug Ross

    The data came directly from the website that Norm mentioned.

    If you want to view straight ticket, push the dozen or so buttons instead. To be both lazy and ignorant is a deadly combination for the future of this state.

    I’d love to hear the rationale for having that option.

      1. Juan Caruso

        More upsetting to me is the number of registered voters who made NO EFFORT to vote (even absentee) was slightly lower in 2014 than in 2010. Primary voting, at least as important, had dismal turnouts always, as well.

        At least we know that most of those who voted in SC this time were probably ID’d as eligible.

  3. o

    Come on. Give the exact %s and don’t round up or down!

    2014 Total voters: 1,257,256
    Voting straight-party Democratic: 24.6 percent
    Voting straight-party Republican: 23.4 percent
    Total voters: 1,365,480
    Voting straight-party Democratic: 24 percent
    Voting straight-party Republican: 23.6 percent
    SOURCE: S.C. Election Commission

    What does it say about voters in SC of both parties?

  4. Brad Warthen

    I spoke to a colleague tonight, someone I respect greatly, who says she doubts the election commission’s numbers.

    I hope she’s right.

    For my part, I’m sort of wondering if Doug and I are missing something, misplacing a decimal or something, because 49 percent just staggers the mind. Also, my Tweet about this is being reTweeted and favorited by a bunch of people, and they all share my outrage — none of them are defending straight ticket. So where IS this 49 percent?

    My gut tells me this is not right; it just can’t be… yet there the numbers are…

    1. Doug Ross

      How could the numbers be wrong? Unless “straight party” includes those who also voted for each individual candidate in a party and not just pushed the single button.

      Richland County says 112,522 votes cast (46.8% turnout). It says 53,620 straight party votes. What else could that mean?

    2. Norm Ivey

      I’m with Doug on this. How can the numbers be wrong? When you go back at look at previous elections, the pattern holds.

      It seems to me 15-20% of the respondents to any issue-oriented poll will take the extremes. Could it be that these respondents are the same people who vote straight ticket? Or are these people single-issue voters? Perhaps they’ve focused on one issue and found that one party serves those interests better than the other, and so they vote that party.

  5. Michael Prince

    Are you equally exercised over the fact that numerous candidates run unopposed — or have only token opposition?

    Although I did not vote straight-ticket, I also did not vote for any Republicans. But I did go through and see if their opponents (if they had any) passed my own personal “smell test,” before deciding if I could lend them my support. Otherwise I skipped that particular race. In a state like SC, where the choice is often between conservative, right-wing and hard right-wing, I can understand why someone votes straight-ticket — although I fully agree that it is not a healthy situation. But neither is the lack of a real choice in many races.

    1. Brad Warthen

      You did it the right way. If your honest assessment of each race is that you prefer the Democrat (or Republican, or whatever), that’s the way you should go — as long as you THINK about each one. It’s the lack of thinking that is so objectionable.

      As for races with no opposition… You must have missed the many times I have bemoaned the way reapportionment — which is responsible for most of those noncompetitive situations — is ruining the republic…

  6. Lynn T

    The parties have successfully sold the idea that they stand for a consistent set of values and priorities. Anyone who watches actual votes and decisions knows better, but few citizens do. First we have to set aside the cases in which consistency isn’t a reasonable goal because pragmatic lawmaking requires compromises. Even excluding those cases, the variation is substantial. One Democratic senator campaigned on his 100% rating from the Chamber of Commerce, normally more closely associated with the Republican Party. At the same time, his environmental record was not nearly as positive as that of some Republicans, who are usually perceived as more inclined toward business than environmental preservation. There are Republicans who support no-excuse early voting without adding “poison pill” restrictions, and others who take a very different direction. The diminished resources of the press in this state are a serious problem because the press is the closest thing we have to a reality check. If The State had as many reporters on the State House as on Gamecock football it would be fabulous. But then if more citizens cared about their government as much as they do about Gamecock football, it would be fabulous.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      What the parties — and the media, and interest groups, and practically everyone whose profession has to do with politics — have successfully sold is the binary paradigm.

      Almost all of the people who write or talk about, or otherwise deal with politics for a living, talk about political decision as being a choice between two options, and two options only. Either-or. Left-right. Democrat-Republican. Black-white.

      And because that’s the way THEY talk and write about it, the rest of the public does the same. Why? Because they lack the vocabulary to speak or think about politics any other way. It’s a very Orwellian situation. The point of Newspeak in 1984 is to eliminate all words that express concepts that would free people’s minds. If they don’t have words for a concept that would be a thoughtcrime, they can’t engage in crimethink.

      Too many people just can’t think beyond the notion that good people like me vote THIS way, and only this way, and that people who vote that other way are bad.

      The way rank and file voters react to Nikki Haley offers a good example of this phenomenon. Among in-the-know Republicans — the Inner Party members, carrying forward the 1984 analogy — have never liked her much, although I sense a lot of them have now warmed to her.

      But among the great masses of people who think of themselves as Republicans, if you criticize Nikki Haley, then you are a liberal Democrat. This, to them, is a truth that cannot be disputed. There can be no other explanation for your criticism.

      I know this from personal experience. I actually have missed out on getting a job because the boss was convinced I was “left of center.” Why? Because I’ve criticized Nikki Haley. That was the entire explanation. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But I knew I’d have trouble working for someone who didn’t think any more clearly that that, so sour grapes.

      Cindi Scoppe and I both have gotten that a lot. And the idea that either of us is a liberal Democrat is risible to anyone who looks and listens and thinks. But otherwise bright people who don’t think about this stuff all the time believe it as a matter of course, because their paradigm admits no other explanation.

      Back when Jim Hodges and Bill Clinton were in office, we caught similar hell from Democrats. Their notion that we were right-wingers was equally laughable, but you couldn’t convince THEM of that. (I’ll never forget one through-the-looking-glass experience I had speaking to a small group of academics back when Hodges was in office. They sat there with these stony looks of hostility on their faces. They finally let me know that, because I was opposed to Hodges and his “education lottery,” I was an enemy of public education — despite the fact that we had written FAR more over the years as champions of the schools than we had written about Hodges and his plan. They could not be moved. They sat there and informed me I had never lifted a finger for education. They were adamant in their absurd belief.)

      As you say, Lynn, “Anyone who watches actual votes and decisions knows better, but few citizens do.” Posts such as this one are part of my campaign to gradually wear away at the bars of the average citizen’s mind prison, which was largely created by my colleagues in the media…

  7. John

    Sorry to be the opposing view, but I respectfully disagree with the underlying argument. It isn’t a matter of being “bothered” for some people. The fact is half of all people are going to vote solidly, or almost solidly Dem/Rep no matter what. The fact that 50% are in the middle and do vote for individual candidates on issues/merit is also about right and consistent throughout the nation. There is nothing unusual about the numbers imho. You can remove the option, but all you are really doing is making people stay in a voting booth a little longer. I doubt seriously that it would make any difference if you remove the ST option.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, by all means, have them stay in the booth longer. Make them make individual choices in each race. I don’t care how their totals end up. A voter has the obligation to THINK about each and every choice on the ballot. If he or she is unwilling to do that, he or she absolutely should NOT be voting.

      1. John

        Mr. Warthen, it is true that people that vote straight-ticket tend to be in poorer rural areas. I don’t know about SC, but in NC 80% of black voters in 2012 voted ST, while 45% of white voters did no. If we take your central premise that these people are “bothered”, and voting straight-ticket is a “cop-out”, or (maybe not your words) that these people are ill/uninformed, how will elimination of the ST ballot change that? Do you really believe that somehow these people will magically know who to vote for and think critically about their choice, or make more careful considerations before arriving? My pov on this is that regardless of the ballot choice, people will largely fall into the 25/25% for Dem/Rep and 50% for split/independent voters nationwide. Elimination of the ST ballot will not change the electorate to become more knowledgeable. All it really does is reduce voter participation due to longer lines and voter apathy and it most certainly increases the chances of Republican to win elections. Sure, I agree with you that it would be great if all voters made informed decisions, but elimination of the ST ballot will not achieve that goal, it might actually hinder it by reducing the number of voices at the polls to being with.

        1. o

          “it is true that people that vote straight-ticket tend to be in poorer rural areas”

          I live in what would be considered a rural county and that’s not the case. Our voters went ST at less than half the statewide rate. It would be interesting to look at Lexington County vs Richland County results for party ST voting.

          1. John

            I am speaking more generally of course, I am sure that is not always the case if looked at the micro. What I do know is that in NC, the newly elected Rep majority enacted a number of election reforms. They reduced the number of early voting days, eliminated the straight-ticket option and for 2016 will require a government issued I.D. for voting. Personally, I don’t have a problem with any of those measures, as there is still plenty of time to vote and I can fill-in circles regardless of the options, I have a drivers license. I think though, that any ballot change is purely politically motivated, to ensure more votes for one side or the other. In an ideal world, people would make informed decisions and yes, if they are uninformed we could make the argument that they should not vote as stated here. However, I am a little wary of any measures that would potentially restrict voting, or lead to further apathy. Good post though and I enjoy discussing stats, what they mean and how they may be changed.

            1. o

              Thanks Brad. That’s interesting as the election results handout (5 pages) from my county that I was handed by the voter registration officer shows a different result from this chart relative to straight party results.

  8. o

    I was at the county voter & registration office Tuesday night and got a total vote package that included all precincts with the various categories. Given my knowledge of these precinct demographics, I think the straight ticket numbers are correct. Our county total result showed Democrat at 10.9%, Republican at 8.7% and the Libertarian, Working Families, United Citizens and American party voters only voted straight ticket at .9%. These are significantly less than the state-wide percentages, but being rural and somewhat of a bell-weather voting county, the voter wait times are much less than the more urban counties. That may account for less straight party voting. It was interesting to note that more heavily R or D precincts in our county tended to vote straight party at a higher percentage.

  9. Anna

    I know the timeline on this has been years — however, I will say that in my district, one is not allowed to vote independent — one must declare at the poll and even for an absentee ballot whether one is going to need a Democrat ballot or a Republican ballot. At the polls, one is only allowed to vote either way — not independent — and must tell the person matching the ID and checking off the voter list — what party the voter affiliates with. It cannot be avoided if you wish to vote in SC! Why is this not recognized as a problem???

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      You were voting in a primary. You only get to vote in the Republican or Democratic primary — one or the other. You can’t vote in both primaries. That’s why they have to ask you which ballot you want.

      I think we should be allowed to vote in both primaries. Unfortunately, I’m one of the few people who thinks so.

      They’re trying something like that in California — everybody votes in one, unified primary, and the top two vote-getters are in the general election, even if they are of the same party.

      I think that makes a lot mores sense…

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