SPARTANBURG, SC (WSPA) — A majority of races across South Carolina for the midterm elections on Tuesday went uncontested, highlighting the lack of candidates overall in the state’s elections.
To learn why the majority of races in the state were uncontested, 7NEWS spoke with a professor at the University of South Carolina’s Dept. of Political Science who specializes in political campaigns.
Across the state, 74% of the races in South Carolina’s midterm elections went uncontested, resulting in a lack of party competition for many local elections, according to Joshua Meyer-Gutbrod, a professor at the University of South Carolina’s Dept. of Political Science.
The lack of candidates exists for both parties, but it’s particularly true for Republican races.
In South Carolina’s midterm election on Nov. 8, Republican candidates were unopposed for 56 races out of a total of 124 (50%). Democrats were uncontested for 18 of those 124 elections (26%), according to Meyer-Gutbrod.
“It’s a bipartisan issue in many regards in the states, and so you’re definitely missing out even if you’re happy with your candidate you’re missing the conversation,” he said.
Meyer-Gutbrod has special insight into this issue having done research into campaign websites.
“People who are unchallenged don’t have campaign websites, and not having a campaign website is a really great signal of where the campaign is more broadly. They don’t campaign,” he said.
Uncontested candidates are largely not getting out in the community. They are leaning on the “Republican” and Democrat” labels to attract voters, he said.
Even if you’re happy with the partisanship of your candidate, you’re missing out on debates over local policies that differ from national party issues that people hear about more often, Meyer-Gutbrod said.
“If our candidates aren’t campaigning, you’re not really seeing that conversation at all,” he said.
Upstate SC House of Representatives Elections
Out of 36 elections for candidates vying for the SC House of Representatives in the Upstate, only nine races are contested.
|District||Democratic Party||Republican Party||Other Party|
|District 1 (Oconee)||None||Bill Whitmire|
|District 2 (Oconee)||None||Bill Sandifer|
|District 3 (Pickens)||None||Jerry Carter|
|District 4 (Pickens)||None||David Davey Hiott|
|District 5 (Greenville/Pickens)||None||Neal Collins|
|District 6 (Anderson)||None||April Cromer|
|District 7 (Anderson)||Chris Salley||Jay West|
|District 8 (Anderson)||Ernest Mackins||Don Chapman||Jackie Todd (Alliance)|
|District 9 (Anderson)||Judith Polson||Anne Thayer|
|District 10 (Anderson)||None||Thomas Beach|
|District 11 (Abbeville)||None||Craig Gagnon|
|District 12 (Greenwood)||Anne Parks||Daniel Gibson|
|District 13 (Greenwood)||Bill Kimler||John McCravy|
|District 14 (Laurens)||Daniel Duncan||Stewart Jones|
|District 16 (Greenville)||None||Mark N Willis|
|District 17 (Greenville)||None||Mike Burns|
|District 18 (Greenville)||Michael Reitz||Alan Morgan|
|District 19 (Greenville)||None||Patrick Haddon|
|District 20 (Greenville)||None||Adam Morgan|
|District 21 (Greenville)||None||Bobby Cox|
|District 22 (Greenville)||None||Jason Elliott|
|District 23 (Greenville)||Chandra Dillard||None|
|District 24 (Greenville)||None||Bruce Bannister|
|District 25 (Greenville)||Wendell Jones||Yvonne Julian||Tony Boyce(Independence); |
|District 27 (Greenville)||None||David Vaughan|
|District 28 (Greenville)||John Fritz Wiebel||Ashley Trantham|
|District 29||None||Dennis Moss|
|District 30||None||Brian Lawson|
|District 31 (Spartanburg)||Rosalyn Henderson-Myers||None|
|District 32 (Spartanburg)||None||Max Hyde|
|District 33 (Spartanburg)||None||Travis A Moore|
|District 34 (Spartanburg)||None||Roger A Nutt|
|District 35 (Greenville)||None||Bill Chumley|
|District 36 (Spartanburg)||None||Rob Harris|
|District 37 (Spartanburg)||None||Steven Long|
|District 38 (Spartanburg)||None||Josiah Magnuson|
The resources the state legislature has to run is one of the main determining factors in whether or not competition goes up, he said.
Legislators get paid around $10,000 for their service, and they are not provided with a paid staff. As a result, it takes a very special type of person who can even run for state legislature in a state like South Carolina, said Meyer-Gutbrod.
“Suddenly you have to leave your job for four months out of the year. You make $10,000 during that period and hopefully, you can come back to whatever job you had before. There are a lot of jobs where you cannot do that. Contrast that with other states like California, where you have professional legislatures, where you’re paid a wage for a full-year job to be at that legislature,” he said.
It reduces competition by limiting the applicant pool, he said, and one of the main determining factors in whether or not competition goes up, he said.
“Obviously, some states are just skewed heavily towards one party. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have competition. Arguably, you should have more competition in the primary season,” he said. That didn’t happen.
In the state’s primaries this year, only 30% of races were contested for Republicans; while 10% percent of Democratic primaries were contested, he said.
“If we were just a deep red state, and we knew Republicans were going to win, then all the action would happen in the primaries. And we’re not even seeing that,” he said.
Uncompetitive districts (gerrymandering)
Redistricting is influenced by both partisan and incumbent pressures that result in uncompetitive districts.
“As much as there is a partisan component, there has always been a huge incumbent component. We’re talking about the people setting the boundaries for who is going to elect them next time,” he said.
The result tends to create a large bias favoring the incumbent candidates in the state, he said.
The simplest explanation of legislative behavior will always be the desire to get reelected, said Meyer-Gutbrod.
Risk of talking
“You may say something that is totally acceptable now, but 5 years down the road it’s no longer a viable policy anymore,” he said. “Sometimes conditions change, and when conditions change, what was a good policy 10 years ago is no longer a viable option.”
These reversals create risk for incumbents who are looking for a long-term career as a politician.
“If the public tide reverses on a position you previously took, it’s hard to change your position, he said. “The position can come back to haunt you.”
If a candidate can hold no distinct position and still be guaranteed to win an election by running unopposed, there’s a real incentive to stay quiet, he said.
If you say something it may make your situation worse.
Straight ticket voting (also called straight party voting) allows voters to choose all candidates running under that party for every election on the ballot with a single mark.
Voters are busy keeping up with national politics, let alone state and local politics, and have a hard time finding time to learn about candidates.
“People look for easy cues to make that simpler. States with single checkboxes: it’s right there, so it’s very tempting to hit the check, and that’s going to further discourage competition,” he said.
In South Carolina, 62% of voters checked single-ticket voting for the Republican Party, according to the South Carolina Election Commission.
A total of 6 states allow or offer straight-ticket voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Those states are Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
The other states that do it are also some of the worst nationally, he said.
Alabama is the worst at 80% of races that went uncontested. Michigan is one of the best with around 2% of seats uncontested, he said.
Overall in the country, out of the 6,278 seats up for election during the midterm election, 2,632 (41.9%) were uncontested and had no major party competition, according to Ballotpedia.
The percentage of seats without major party competition was at its highest rate since 2016, up from 35.0% in 2020, according to Ballotpedia.
Correcting for bias
An alternative implemented by another state is aimed at correcting the partisan bias in elections.
Nebraska is the only state in the union that has nonpartisan legislative elections, and they are also the only state in the union with a unicameral legislature, which means the state only has one chamber that’s nonpartisan.