A Final Thought on South Carolina

January 23, 2012

Nothing gets a true South Carolinian’s heart beating faster than a salute to the state’s proud military tradition. A closer look at the data raises a question. What are they thinking about? Fort Sumter?

CNN moderator John King, booed at the outset of last week’s debate for questioning Newt Gingrich’s marital morals, received sustained applause when he prefaced a question about the candidates’ stance on veteran issues with the statement that “this is a state incredibly proud of its military tradition and incredibly proud of its veterans.”

South Carolina usually rewards candidates with military experience. But that didn’t happen in Saturday’s Republican primary, which was won by Gingrich, who never served in the military, going away.

But what about the basic claim – that South Carolina has some unique relationship to the nation’s military tradition? The state does have an overrepresentation of military installations, including Fort Jackson, the army’s main basic training facility. But as far as local residents with military service, the state is not an outlier.

In fact, there are at least seven other states with the same or greater level of veterans as a share of the adult population, according to the Census Bureau. And with 9.3 percent of the nation’s population having served, South Carolina’s 11.6 percent rate is closer to the national norm than it is to Alaska, which leads the pack with 14.1 percent of its citizens claiming military service.

On the other hand, there is definitely a red-blue tilt in the distribution of veterans around the country. The states that have above average percentages are smaller, with more rural areas, and tend to vote Republican. South Carolina fits that pattern.

The states with the fewest military veterans in their populations tend to be have more highly educated residents, are industrial or post-industrial, and are dominated by the nation’s political and financial elites. The states at the bottom of the list are Massachusetts, Illinois, California, New Jersey and New York, which usually vote Democratic.

And guess which jurisdiction is at the very bottom of the list? The District of Columbia – the place where the decisions to send Americans into harm’s way are made.


STATE Percent

Alaska 14.1
Montana 12.5
Virginia 12.3
Wyoming 12.3
Maine 12.2
New Mexico 11.6
South Carolina 11.6
Washington 11.6
Oklahoma 11.5
Hawaii 11.4
South Dakota 11.4
Nevada 11.3
Arkansas 11.2
Oregon 11.2
West Virginia 11.2
Arizona 11.1
New Hampshire 11.1
Alabama 11
Idaho 11
Florida 10.9
Missouri 10.9
Delaware 10.6
Nebraska 10.6
Colorado 10.3
Kansas 10.2
North Carolina 10.1
Ohio 10.1
Tennessee 10.1
Iowa 10
North Dakota 10
Pennsylvania 9.9
Maryland 9.8
Vermont 9.8
Georgia 9.7
Wisconsin 9.7
Indiana 9.6
Kentucky 9.6
Minnesota 9.4
United States 9.3
Mississippi 9.3
Louisiana 9.2
Michigan 9.2
Rhode Island 8.8
Texas 8.8
Connecticut 8.2
Utah 8
Massachusetts 7.8
Illinois 7.7
California 7
New Jersey 6.7
New York 6.3
District of Columbia 6.1

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