Researchers expect Lowcountry growth to lead political shift in state

VIDEO: Researchers expect Lowcountry growth to lead political shift in state

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Perri Liebergall was just one of the thousands of South Carolina transplants who showed up in downtown Charleston to vote absentee, but she has not lived in the area for long.

“I recently moved to South Carolina about two years ago from Connecticut.” said Liebergall.

Liebergall is just one of many moving in. Last year, Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester Counties grew by an average of 38 people each day.

“Living downtown, we’re noticing that a lot of people are moving from New York and Pennsylvania, so a lot of people are coming in from the north,” said Liebergall.

As more people moving to the Charleston area are becoming South Carolina voters, experts are noticing a change in the way local candidates campaign amid a possible long-term shift in the way the Palmetto State votes.

“We are starting to see fingerprint evidence of a change in voting trends in metropolitan areas,” said Dr. John Gaber of Clemson University’s Department of City Planning and Real Estate Development. “As a result, we are seeing the beginning of a change in voting going from red to blue.”

Gaber explained that one of the largest drivers of the growth and change in local political views is the increasing corporate presence in the Lowcountry, a trend that started to form as a result of economic development planning beginning in the 1980s.

Companies such as Boeing, Volvo, and Mercedes-Benz are now among the largest employers in the region, though there has also been a growth in smaller businesses such as restaurants, building companies, and software developers.

“This demand for labor which is not in the existing labor force is really pulling people who are more likely college educated, also much much younger,” said Gaber. “So the growth development we see in Charleston is wildly different from what we see in a place like Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head.”

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Berkeley County’s population has increased by 28 percent over the last decade, with Dorchester County’s population increasing by 20 percent and Charleston County’s by 18 percent.

“Any local politician is going to be incredibly sensitive to the changing demographic profile and will adjust their platform accordingly,” said Dr. Karyn Amira.

Amira, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the College of Charleston, noted that the Charleston area is not only seeing people relocating from other parts of the country like New York, but also college students staying in the region after completing their studies.

This change is already evident to some longtime residents of the region.

“Down here in Charleston, it used to be an all-red county, an all-red district,” said Lowcountry native Charles Pearson.

“I think there’s certainly a more purple county [now], Charleston especially,” said local Richards Hundley. “We’ve had a good influx of people from out of the state and that affects voting habits.”

Amira explained that although South Carolina is still a fairly Republican state and it would take years for a clear shift at the statewide level, a sign of change can be seen in Democrat Representative Joe Cunningham’s narrow 2018 victory in the 1st Congressional District.

The district, which includes much of the Lowcountry coastline and parts of Charleston, was previously represented by Republican representatives for decades.

With Cunningham and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham both up for reelection on Tuesday, researchers are curious how the recent increase in the Charleston area’s population could impact turnout and results.

Both Cunningham and Republican challenger Nancy Mace have campaigned heavily around local issues, with Cunningham’s slogan being “Lowcountry Over Party” and Mace using “Lowcountry First.” Graham and Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison have also spent significant time campaigning in the Charleston area, with both candidates stopping in the region as recently as this weekend.

As the Lowcountry continues to grow, it remains to be seen how municipal, county, state, and national races will be impacted in the long run.

“History doesn’t vote, people do,” said Gaber. “As a composition of these communities are changing, voting trends are changing, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing in Charleston.”

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