Analyzing the 2010 Midterm Elections – the South Carolina Gubernatorial Election, Part 1

This is the first part of three posts analyzing the 2010 South Carolina gubernatorial election, in which Republican Nikki Haley won a closer-than-expected victory over Democrat Vincent Sheheen. The main focus of these posts will be to explore whether a racial effect accounted for Ms. Haley’s unexpected poor performance.

The next post can be found here.

(Note: This is also part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections.)

It was the October, 2010 in South Carolina. Nikki Haley, Republican candidate for South Carolina governor, was cruising. She was a conservative candidate – endorsed by none other than Sarah Palin herself – running in a conservative state, in the best Republican year in a generation.

Opinion polls showed the Republican politician leading by double-digits. Even the most pessimistic gave Ms. Haley a high single digit lead.

On election day, however, Ms. Haley won by only 4.5%:

What could have accounted for Ms. Haley’s poor performance?

Several factors come to mind. Ms. Haley was not an uncontroversial candidate; her positions were conservative even for South Carolina. The Democratic candidate, Vincent Sheheen, might have been an unnaturally talented campaigner. And there is always the factor of randomness to take into account. There were hundreds of races in November; the polls would inevitably be inaccurate on one or two, and this race just happened to be one of them.

Or perhaps there is another explanation – a particularly ugly one, but one that lurks at the back of everybody’s head. Ms. Haley was an woman of Indian heritage running to govern South Carolina, a state with not exactly the most innocent racial history. Throughout the campaign, Ms. Haley was subject to attacks that implicitly played up the racial angle: she had had affairs with white men (unfortunately for the accusers, this attack doesn’t work as well against women), she wasn’t Christian or was only pretending to be one, and so on.

It is not unimaginable that a sort of Bradley effect took place in South Carolina, that a number of normally steadfast Republicans balked at voting for the first non-white and female governor in history.

This is a serious accusation, and therefore needs serious evidence. The next post will therefore begin an extensive examination of whether Ms. Haley’s race undermined her performance.

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