Visualizing a Breakthrough for Jaime Harrison on Election Night

South Carolina Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Jaime Harrison

While polls are all over the place on the race between incumbent U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R) and challenger Jaime Harrison (D), it seems that recent polling suggests that Harrison has a fair shot at winning this Senate race. Since that is the case, I figured it would be worth looking at what a Jaime Harrison win would look like on the map. It isn’t as if we have much to go on with the most recent statewide Democrat victory going all the way back to Jim Rex’s victory in the Superintendent of Education race.

This would be no easy feat by Harrison, but since the full data of some reputable national polls bears out this possibility, I have tried my best to create a projection of what this would look like.

It stands to reason that due to demographic changes, Rex’s map is not one that Harrison will emulate. Instead, Harrison will probably need to use Lindsey Graham’s negative shift with college-educated voters, siphon off enough non-college white voters, and drive massive African-American turnout.

First, as a baseline, below is a fun three-dimensional map of the 2018 Governor’s race in South Carolina. The height of each county is equal to the margin of votes for the color indicated. This shows the importance of Horry, Lexington, Greenville, and the rest of the Upstate in canceling out the large margins in Richland and Charleston. This map will also serve to show the massive electoral changes needed in the 2 years since for Jaime to win.

The formula for a 2020 version of this map was to take the cross-tabs of a Quinnipiac poll showing a Harrison tie, and compare it to 2016 exit polling of the same demographic groups. The focus was on nonwhite voters, white college educated voters, and white people without college degrees. If you know the proportion of how they voted in 2016, how they are projected to vote in 2020, relative differences from the absolute vote in 2016 can be calculated. Also, I reduced the third party vote by a third and allocated those votes 50/50 to each candidate.

This methodology isn’t that statistically accurate; however, this exercise serves to show two concepts:

  1. As the headline alluded to, what does a Democratic path to victory look like in South Carolina in 2020?
  2. What are some benchmarks to watch for on election night to know if Harrison has a shot?

The first concept is answered in the 2020 map below.

The second concept is answered with a few important counties that will have an outsize influence on the result of this race. These benchmarks could be blown up if the turnout is not around 74-75 percent as I’ve guessed, but pay attention to the percentage margins in the six counties below:

  • Richland
    • The home of Columbia and state government, this county creates the vote margin necessary to reduce the impact of a massively Republican Upstate. As this is a such a razor-thin victory scenario, Jaime must win this vote-rich county by 45%.
  • Charleston
    • As evidenced by Joe Cunningham’s victory in SC-01 in 2018, this county is trending Democratic. This is Jaime’s other vote-rich urban county where the margins must be driven up to outweigh the Lowcountry stronghold of Horry (discussed below). Look for D +24% on election night.
  • Horry
    • This result projection feels a bit of a stretch (I’m a native of Horry and I know that applying Quinnipiac demographic cross-tabs universally to create relative shifts from 2016 could get me in to trouble here). If Jaime’s percentage margin is worse than this, the ground must be made up somewhere else in the state. Look for R +21% on election night.
  • York
    • York County is massively growing in size. The polling in this election is indicating that Trump (and therefore downballot candidates to a degree) is struggling heavily in the suburbs, including mightily with suburban women. York’s status of bedroom community of Charlotte makes a believable shift toward Harrison possible. Look for R +6% on election night.
  • Greenville
    • Greenville County is the largest county by population in the State of South Carolina and by registered voters. Therefore, the influence of Greenville is massive; however, it is starting to become more moderate than previous years of massive Republican victories. Look for R +9% on election night.
  • Beaufort
    • It would probably make more sense to include Lexington on this list of benchmarks. However, it seems so unlikely that my projection is right here that watching Beaufort is necessary on Election Night. Of these six counties to watch, this would be the only one to flip from voting Republican in 2018 in the governor’s race to voting Democratic in 2020 in the U.S. Senate race. Jaime needs to flip some counties as there is only so much that can be done by running up margins in Charleston and Richland counties, so this could be a bellwether. Look for D +3% on election night.

About Lewis Maxey

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