Why is no one talking about the special election in South Carolina?

After an interesting special primary election in Georgia 6 where Jon Ossoff took on a bunch of Republicans in a reasonably red district to set up a run-off between him and Karen Handel, you’d expect more interest in the upcoming special elections as well.

Well we have one, and it’s in 4 days in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional district.


Why is this special election being held?

Republican representative of this district, Mick Mulvaney, was confirmed as Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in the Trump administration and this special election serves to replace him. The election will be similar to the Georgia primary, where the winner of the primary needs to win more than 50% of the vote and if that doesn’t happen, the top 2 candidates would head to a run-off.


The Political Colors of this District

A Democrat represented this seat from 1883–2011, that’s 128 years. Since 2011, Republican Mick Mulvaney has represented it, having won against Democrat John M. Spratt, Jr. who occupied it for 20 years.

Despite that, this district has been solidly Republican in the last 3 Presidential elections: Donald Trump won it by 18.5 points in 2016, Mitt Romney won it by 11.5 points in 2012, and John McCain won it by 11.2 points in 2008.

On top of this, after winning this district in 2010, Mick Mulvaney won re-election in 2012, 2014, and 2016 by 11.1 percent, 21.3 percent, and 20.5 percent, respectively — pretty sizable margins.


Primary Candidates

Democrats
Alexis Frank
Les Murphy
Archie Parnell

Republicans
Chad Connelly
Ray Craig
Sheri Few
Tom Mullikin
Ralph Norman
Tommy Pope
Kris Wampler


The Polls (or lack of them)

The last poll was conducted on February 25, 2017 and there have been only 2 conducted in total, one of which only polled 4 of the Republicans. Tommy Pope with 25% of the vote did lead the pack — 52% were undecided though.


Here’s my analysis

Over the last 3 presidential elections, SC-05 has voted Republican by an average of 13.7 points over the Democrats.

However, if the past 3 special election primaries in California, Kansas, and Georgia are any trend, we should see a movement towards the Democrats. These primaries have seen an average of 16.4 points towards the Democrats.

If the math above holds (and if only it were that simple), the Democrats would win this seat by 2.6 points and end up above the 50% threshold as well — no run-off required.


What do I expect (for real)?

Common punditry says it is a safe Republican win and the Democrats don’t really seem to care about winning this district. No polls since February make it all the more hard to make a judgement on how the voters will vote this Tuesday.

However, the numbers above indicate that the media and the pundits shouldn’t be so sure of a Republican victory. The race could end up being mighty close and if the Republicans do take this seat narrowly, there may be some Democratic regrets hanging around that more effort was not invested in this race.