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ELECTIONS 2014: SC voter turnout lowest in decades

Voter turnout for Tuesday’s midterm election was the lowest in at least 40 years for an S.C. general election.

“It’s an obvious indicator of apathy regarding this election,” said Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon.

None of the top candidates made the election super exciting, Huffmon said. Democrats didn’t have President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket and Republicans didn’t have Obama to vote against, he said.

That resulted in fewer voters showing up at the polls.

Tuesday’s turnout was 43.6 percent of registered voters, according to the S.C. Election Commission. In recent years, the lowest turnout previously was 45 percent in 2006, said commission spokesman Chris Whitmire.

In 2006, Republican Gov. Mark Sanford won a second term by beating an underfunded Democratic state senator.

The low turnout helped Republicans, Winthrop’s Huffmon said.

“When the parties don’t do a good job turning out voters, then turnout ends up defaulting to a very Republican-friendly demographic,” Huffmon said.

Republicans swept statewide races against their Democratic opponents by margins ranging from 14.5 percentage points in the governor’s race to 24 percentage points in Tim Scott’s historic U.S. Senate race.

In Tuesday’s rematch of their 2010 contest, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley increased her margin of victory over Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen by 10 percentage points.

Petition candidate Tom Ervin who called himself an “independent Republican” dropped out of the governor’s race a week before the election and threw his support behind Sheheen.

However, virtually all of Ervin’s supporters defaulted back to Haley, said Huffmon, who directs the Winthrop Poll. More undecided voters cast ballots for Haley as well, he said.

Huffmon expects continued apathy among voters until one party presents an exciting candidate. However, there could be a rebound in the 2016 presidential election, when Democrat Obama cannot run again, and candidates battle it out in primaries to win their party’s nomination, Huffmon said.

Roughly the same number of voters – 49.5 percent – voted straight-party tickets this year as in 2010, with about a quarter of voters casting straight-party GOP ballots and another quarter choosing a straight-party Democratic ballot.

Usually, voters default to casting straight-party tickets when they do not know a lot about the candidates in every race, Huffmon said. “It’s the cognitive shortcut.”

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