HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (WSAV) – Nationwide, as many as 75% of registered voters may cast a ballot in this year’s election.
But what is bringing them to the polls?
“Those issues they said are most important to them are the 278 corridor expansion which has been highly politicized as you know and workforce housing,” said Hannah Horne. “Those are two issues that are not Republican or Democrat, it’s which candidate is going to align with that voter the very best.”
Hannah Horne, Vice President of Public Policy and programs for the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce has done extensive research on what voters in Hilton Head and Beaufort County are looking for in local races.
“Things like a road project is politicized. Lighting at an intersection is politicized,” said Horne. “Things that used to be just a basic function of government have been pointed at a candidate as you did this right or you didn’t do that right. That’s really the trend we are seeing in the divisiveness or polarization even at the local level is, what used to be a government function and project has turned into government overreach, or they have done too much, or they haven’t done enough.”
“For our membership, issues still remained very important, more so than a political ideology,” said Horne. “I think that’s why our towns run non-partisan because you are able to focus more on the issues. Because our residents focus more on the issues. When you get to the county, state, a federal level that polarization exists now more than ever and a very big, big divide.”
Chris Long is a partner at Bluestone Strategies, which is based in South Carolina but looks at the research behind all local and national races.
“From the data we have seen we will have record turnout for early voting. We will have a record turnout potentially of voters. Some estimates have it as much as 75% of voters. But you will also have a record number of young voters registered and have said they are going to vote. In 2016 47% of young people (18-25) said they were enthusiastic about voting. that number is up to 63% this time.”
“When you talk to pollsters that are maybe working for one of the House candidates in the area,” explains Long. “They are going to get the same top two issues which are healthcare and the economy. That’s followed by offshore drilling. As I’ve talked to them, this is a unique thing to this area.”
“If you look at nationwide polling, Democrats their number one issue is healthcare, number two is Coronavirus response, continues Long. “If you look at Republicans, number one is economy, number two is crime. Coronavirus touches so many aspects of all of those it’s sometimes hard to understand what people mean when they say Coronavirus. Is it their personal health? Is it their financial health? Is it the health of their children? I don’t think polls have picked up when you say Coronavirus. It is all-encompassing.”
Horne says Coronavirus issues and recovery are very much on the minds of local voters as well.
“It is not really going down any sort of party line as much as an issue line of infrastructure on dealing with COVID, on the mask ordinances which have really divided and politicized our area as well,” says Horne. “And not even knowing Republican or Democrat, some voters are focused on this mistrust or overreach of government into our daily life. There is this mistrust or lack of trust that is going to drive people into the polls because they want to make a change that somehow aligns with how they want our area to go.”
“When it comes to business,” continues Horne. “Everything from what types of grants are available, what types of stimulus that federal and local, state, and then again the mask ordinance and general safety they felt. That will drive a lot of voter behavior when they go to the polls or if they voted absentee is how do you think that incumbent handled the COVID-19 crisis.”
“One of the toughest lessons we learned during COVID-19 was how much what happens in Washington affects us here at the local level,” continues Horne. “Whenever that third round of stimulus was passed in about April. Whenever those small business grants and stimulus checks came together for everyday people, there’s always been a disconnect. But I think small businesses, and individuals realized how money flowed and how decision making affected them every single day. I have to believe that will also drive voter turnout as well and voter sentiment. Did it help them or didn’t help them, as to how they will press buttons on Tuesday.”
Long says when it comes to the Presidential election, our two states are in very different positions.
“No data that I am seeing is showing South Carolina is moving into the purple column,” said Long. “I think Georgia in all the pollings show an extremely close presidential race, or with a potential win by a Democratic candidate for the first time since Bill Clinton won in 1996.”
And that Presidential race, according to Long, is not driven by issues.
“Either you significantly love one of the candidates or are significantly voting against a candidate,” said Long.
“The things they normally would run on is simply not breaking through with regular Joes. This is a candidate-driven race and there’s no way around that.”
Something the people in the Lowcountry have to get past, according to Horne, is the flood of negative ads.
“There are a lot of great candidates and a lot of important issues that get lost in the mix whenever it’s two people screaming at each other,” says Horne. “What I do hope political ads do is bring people to a sense of being inspired to vote, it decreases apathy and it even spurs more people to run for office. To be the candidate they would like to see.”
Long says one of the most divisive races, South Carolina’s First Congressional District isn’t just important to our area, but potentially the entire Country.
“There’s a lot of attention on South Carolina One in Washington. If Joe Cunningham is to win another term in congress it will send a pretty big message that it’s going to be a strong Democratic night.”
“The polarizing issues that are going along ideological lines are healthcare and taxes,” Horne says the research shows. “What one believes in tax plans vs another, and then there’s a lot of talk about each other’s record. How even though Joe Cunningham is an incumbent Democrat with a connection to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Nancy Mace’s record in the SC State Senate is being brought up. What is resonating with voters is Joe Cunningham and how moderate he is and how often he votes with the Republican party in a very conservative way.”
But how much do those angry political ads on both sides make a difference?
“At this point in the game this is about getting out to vote,” said Long. “Minds aren’t about to change with the voters we have, but it is effective for getting out the vote. I don’t know if the data has necessarily bourne out that it’s effective in changing minds.”
“You have independent voters, you have swing voters and you have undecided voters,” explains Long. “Each one of those groups is different. So you have independent voters who are not really independent. On average if you ask every independent voter more questions, a new study showed, a third of independent voters are really independent. The majority of them lean heavily toward one party or another. Another study had that number at about 50% of independent voters.”
“Between 3 and 8% of voters are truly undecided. The ads that are running right now are direct at those voters. And that’s why we see that constant barrage of not just television ads, we are getting it for the first time ever on our phones as well as because of the COVID crisis through the mail.”
“What we have seen in focus groups, people want change,” explains Long. “But change is very hard to find. People also want elected members to work together and get results. But that’s very difficult to quantify because one person’s results are another person’s worst nightmare.”