Political Science Now

History Made: The Rise of Republican Tim Scott

By Scott H. Huffmon (Winthrop University), H. Gibbs Knotts (College of Charleston), and Seth C. McKee (Texas Tech University)

In a time of unprecedented racial polarization in partisan voting, and in the staunchly Republican Deep South state of South Carolina, one black Republican has managed to reach the pinnacle of public offices. We look more closely at Tim Scott’s political rise, analyzing precinct-level data to explain his 2010 election to the U.S. House and data from the Winthrop Poll to explore his more recent U.S. Senate victory. To explain support for Scott, we also report the results from an embedded survey experiment to assess respondents’ favorability toward Scott when he is characterized by two different frames: (1) “Tea Party favorite” or (2) “first African American Senator from South Carolina since Reconstruction.” We find that conservatives, evangelicals, and lower educated individuals respond more positively to Scott when he is described as a “Tea Party favorite.” Senator Scott’s coalition of voters is typical of those that routinely support white Republicans, but his success is rooted in his cultivation of the personal vote among constituents he represented in previous political offices. Beyond being an intriguing case study, Tim Scott’s ascendance in South Carolina politics tells a broader story of the complicated relationship between race, ideology, and partisanship in the contemporary American South.

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PS: Political Science & Politics / Volume 49 / Issue 03 / July 2016, pp 405-413 / Copyright © American Political Science Association 2016