A study conducted at the University of South Carolina-Upstate examined how state residents engage in “civic activities” like voting, volunteering, and contacting their elected leaders. Upstate used data from the National Conference on Citizenship and the U.S. Census to create the report, entitled the “South Carolina Civic Health Index.” It found South Carolina ranked 13th for voter registration, 14th for turnout in the 2010 midterms (with nearly 51 percent of eligible voters) and 19th in 2012 (almost 65 percent).
But South Carolina was also among the worst for participation after Election Day. Residents came in 48th for contacting public officials and 44th for attending public meetings about town or school affairs, according to the report.
“We vote at very high rates and that’s a positive sight for citizenship, but we’re at the bottom of the country when it comes to these other forms of political activity,” political science professor Abe Goldberg, who led the study, said. “That was an absolutely eye-opening finding from this.”
Goldberg said the study reveals the best indicator of a person’s participation in the process is whether or not they have a college degree.
“With only about 25 percent of our residents having a college degree, that group, that 25 percent is far more active than everybody else in this state,” Goldberg said.
The report made several suggestions to increase political action in the state. These were: developing urban areas and bringing people together and stimulate neighborhood engagement; fostering a culture that values educational attainment; reaching out to willing religious institutions to invite people to participate in nonpartisan political activity and broader community involvement; and having state leaders consider assembling and empowering a “South Carolina Commission on Youth Civic Engagement.”
“Political activity is the way that we communicate with leaders so when you only have 25 percent who are extremely involved we have to ask who our leaders are hearing from and maybe who’s voice is not being heard, and that’s something I took away from the report as well,” Goldberg said.