First In The South

Since 1980, just one candidate has won the Republican nomination for United States President without first winning South Carolina’s Republican Primary.

Year Winner Percent Votes 2nd Place Percent Votes Turnout %
1980 Ronald Reagan
Total Votes: 79,549
John Connally
Total Votes: 43,113
Total Votes: 145,501
1984 Uncontested
1988 George H.W. Bush
Total Votes: 94,738
Bob Dole
Total Votes: 40,265
Total Votes: 195,292
1992 George H.W. Bush
Total Votes: 99,558
Pat Buchanan
Total Votes: 38,247
Total Votes: 148,840
1996 Bob Dole
Total Votes: 124,801
Pat Buchanan
Total Votes: 80,947
Total Votes: 276,819
2000 George W. Bush
Total Votes: 305,998
John McCain
Total Votes: 239,964
Total Votes: 573,101
2004 Uncontested
2008 John McCain
Total Votes: 147,686
Mike Huckabee
Total Votes: 132,943
Total Votes: 445,499
2012 Newt Gingrich
Total Votes: 244,065
Mitt Romney
Total Votes: 168,123
Total Votes: 605,623
2016 Donald J. Trump
Total Votes: 240,882
Marco Rubio
Total Votes: 166,565
Total Votes: 745,405

Notice a pattern? Since 1980, when Lee Atwater help establish our state’s “First in the South” Primary, our state has almost always selected the eventual nominee. South Carolina Presidential Preference Primaries have unique characteristics and demographics which are more reflective of the national electorate at large – and therefore a much stronger indicator than any of the other earlier primaries or caucuses. We take our primaries very seriously – We pick presidents!

In the year 2000, South Carolina held a then-record setting presidential preference primary. Then-governor George W. Bush was propelled to the GOP nomination for President after winning South Carolina’s make-or-break GOP Presidential Primary. Bush had lost in New Hampshire to Senator McCain and it set up a bruising few weeks of non-stop, 24 hour media attention on the Palmetto State. That year, a whopping 573,101 South Carolina Republicans voted in the Presidential Primary.

George W. Bush was particularly strong in the upstate where voter turnout was heaviest – winning Greenville (42,846 out of 73,281 votes) and Spartanburg (21,736 out of 37,159 votes) Counties with 58%. Bush was also strong in the Midlands where he carried Lexington County (25,990 out of 45,277 votes) with 57% and Richland County (21,955 out of 44,822 votes) with 49%. Senator John McCain was strong on the coast where he carried Horry (14,763 out of 27,735 votes) and Beaufort (11,276 out of 21,212 votes) Counties with 53% – though Bush carried Charleston (22,380 out of 47,269 votes) with 47%. The next day’s headlines told of a monumental Victory…

S.C. Saves Bush Newspaper headline“I believe because of this vote today that I will be the next President of the United States.”
– Gov. George W. Bush, Feb. 19, 2000

On January 21, 2012, a new record of 603,770 voters turned out in horrible weather to deliver victory to former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Gingrich’s surprising victory was sparked by two dramatic presidential debates held in South Carolina in the week prior to the election. Election night headlines showed a presidential nomination race that was up for grabs:

“Surprising his rivals and scrambling the Republican race for the presidency, Newt Gingrich won the pivotal South Carolina primary Saturday…”
– The New York Times, January 21, 2012

“Just days after Mitt Romney seemed poised for a three-for-three streak in the opening presidential primaries, Newt Gingrich ensured the nomination fight will drag on…”
–, January 21, 2012