South Carolina HD #106 – An analysis of campaign contributions in a South Carolina special election

Over the last few months, I introduced a methodology for gauging voter support and candidate engagement in local special elections based on the address of each campaign’s political contributors.  In a purely local campaign, it is generally not enough to establish name recognition or attract agreement with policy positions.  In order to win, a candidate must get voters to actually make the effort to vote for them.  This sounds obvious, of course, but it is actually quite an undertaking when talking about a special election in the middle of July.  Obviously, there are some regular, dedicated, citizens who vote in every election, no matter what.  But in today’s increasingly busy society, the number of those folks is likely dwindling.

Local campaigns can’t generally use expensive television advertisements to introduce themselves to voters, and more importantly, remind people to vote.  This is especially true when the absence of campaign commercials and news reports about concurrent national or statewide races can remind folks to vote.  And although yard signs and campaign mailers help to increase one’s name recognition and awareness, my experience from local campaigns is that the best method to drive voters to the polls comes from committed supporters.  Those who truly support a candidate will usually make personal appeals to their neighbors, friends, and colleagues, asking them to make sure they make the effort to vote.

So, how does an elections analyst identify which campaign has such committed supporters?  Perhaps the answer is in their campaign finance report.  Obviously, people can passionately support a campaign without donating money.  But anyone familiar with even local candidates knows how critical financial support is to a campaign.  And, it stands to reason that those who do donate are likely to be those strong supporters of a candidate who can potentially drive turnout.

So far, I have analyzed four special elections for state legislative seats in Georgia this summer.  And while my methodology has not performed perfectly, it has certainly provided some accurate predictions and insights for all four contests.  Today, I am rolling out this tool to analyze a special election in South Carolina House District #106, in Horry County near Myrtle Beach.  As of the latest round of redictricting in both states, State House members in Georiga represent an average of just under 54,000 residents, while South Carolina State Representatives represent an average of just over 37,000 residents.  Therefore, given that South Carolina districts are about two-thirds smaller than Georgia ones, and thus even more ‘local’, I would imagine that this methodology should work rather similarly.

Therefore, for Tuesday’s special election in South Carolina State House District 106, I reviewed the campaign finance reports filed by each of the four Republican candidates.  No Democratic Party candidates filed to run in this race.

CandidateNumber of ContributionsDollar Amount of
Contributions
Russell Fry 180$ 35,720
Sanford Cox
Graves
7$ 730
Tyler Servant 10$ 3,750
Roy Sprinkle 6$ 529

 

I then examined the mailing address for each listed donation and, one by one, determined the corresponding location of each.

CandidateNumber of unique
contributions from
addresses within HD 106
Number of unique
contributions from
addresses just
outside HD 106
Russell Fry 216
Sanford Cox
Graves
1
Tyler Servant 4
Roy Sprinkle 5

 

Since I am looking for unique donations, I disregarded multiple contributions from either the same person or the same address.  And because I want to identify supporters and voters who reside in the district who are most likely to prompt neighbors to make the effort to vote, I excluded contributions from political action committees, campaign committees of other candidates, and addresses with post office boxes.  Furthermore, I also excluded contributions from business addresses.

 

To simplify the analysis, I aggregated the 16 voting precincts within HD #106 into geographic regions as follows:

  • Marlowe: Marlowe #1 (#165), Marlowe #2 (#220) and Marlowe #3 (#222)
  • Burgess: Burgess #1 (#108), Burgess #2 (#109), Burgess #3 (#219) and Burgess #4 (#221)
  • Northeast: Deerfield (#121), Glenns Bay (#142), Surfside #1 (#204), Surfside #2 (#205), and Surfside #3 (#206),
  • Garden City: Garden City #1 (#138), Garden City #2 (#139), Garden City #3 (#140) and Garden City #4 (#141)

 

I used ArcGIS to plot the contributions, along with the district and precinct boundaries here: HD #106 District Map

 

Furthermore, here is the breakdown of the November 2014 General Election vote in House District #106 by those regions, as well as the current number of registered voters (per the South Carolina State Election Commission) :

RegionVotes Cast in
Nov. General
Election in
HD #106
Current Number
of Registered
Voters
Marlowe 1,871 5,814
Burgess 2,841 8,484
Northeast 2,904 9,265
Garden City 1,789 5,614
Absentee 792
Total10,19729,177

 

And finally, I’ve broken down each candidate’s campaign contributions by region.  Note that here I’ve also included each candidate’s contributions from addresses which are just outside HD #106’s boundaries:

RegionRussell
Fry
Sanford
Cox Graves
Tyler
Servant
Roy
Sprinkle
Marlowe 41
Burgess 91
Northeast1033
Garden City 411
Total27145

 

Here are some thoughts:

  • This race looks very much like the special election two weeks ago in Georgia House District #48, which was analyzed here.  Betty Price had an overwhelming advantage against her two opponents in name recognition, overall campaign receipts, and campaign contributions from within the district.  I predicted that she would win without needing a runoff, and she did, but it was close.  There is generally a base level of support for each candidate, which can make it difficult to win with greater than 50% in a multi-person field.  That will be even more evident here, as there are four GOP candidates in this field.
  • Russell Fry’s advantage in total dollars raised and number of contributions from within the district is very impressive.  It is hard to see how he doesn’t win this primary.  Furthermore, despite the reservations noted above about how hard it is to win a four-person election with more than 50% of the vote, this methodology clearly suggests that he should achieve that here.
  • It will be very interesting to see whether Roy Sprinkle or Tyler Servant finishes second, and although the number of data points is small, I think the geography of the votes will be worth following.  While Servant has raised and spent the second-most amount of dollars, most of his contributions have come from the northeast section of the district, where both Fry and Sprinkle also seem to have meaningful support.  In fact, all of Servant’s contributors have addresses along the coast, that is, east of Route 17.  It seems likely that Sprinkle will garner more votes from the central and western precincts (such as Marlowe #2 and Burgess #2) where he had 2 contributors, which is equal to Fry.  Individually, those two precincts have the 1st and 3rd most registered voters in the district.
  • As with all special elections, voter turnout is likely to be very low on Tuesday, which adds significant volatility to these predictions.  In the most recent Republican primary in a State House special election in Horry County (in adjoining HD #68 three years ago in June 2012) a mere 699 votes were cast!  Another similar summer special election with a GOP primary in July 2011 in HD #10 in Anderson County saw a turnout rate of about 8.5% of registered voters (just under 2,000 votes).  I’ll predict that tomorrow there will be slightly less than that in percentage terms (about 7.5% of registered voters), which equates to almost 2,200 ballots cast.

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