COLUMBIA, South Carolina — It's cold and gray here in the Palmetto State, but the palmetto trees are a continual reminder that we are really down South. The constant campaign ads on TV and volunteers handing out candidate information are a reminder that, just a week after the Republican primary here, there's a Democratic one on Saturday.
South Carolina is the first truly racially diverse state to have a Democratic primary this cycle. Roughly 50 percent of registered Democrats in South Carolina are black, according to NPR, and their vote is considered critical; and women voters make up 60 percent of Democratic voters in the state, according to USA Today.
With so many people talking about the race and gender of two of the major candidates and how it might impact this primary, we decided to come down here and ask people about the issue.
With the help of an unscientific multiple-choice quiz (those so-called "scientific polls" didn't work out so well for New Hampshire) and some college students, we set out to find out if people were voting based on the issues, personality, race, gender or perhaps a mix. There were four questions ("Which plan do you think is best for" Iraq, creating jobs, the environment and health care) followed by the four candidates' positions on those issues (the poll was conducted before Dennis Kucinich's withdrawal from the race on Thursday).
Of course, the candidates' names did not appear on the quiz. The students were then told which candidate their answers were most in line with. It was tough, since the Democratic front-runners have admitted they've got a lot of similarities when it comes to the issues.
We picked the University of South Carolina because its student body roughly reflects the state as a whole. According to information on the school's Web site, the campus is about 20 percent black, while a 2006 U.S. Census report puts the state at 29 percent. Most other students and residents are white, and there is a comparatively small Latino population. For whatever it's worth, the latest Reuters/C-Span/Zogby poll has Obama 13 points ahead of Clinton here.
"I'm between Hillary and Obama," said English Nye, a junior. She wasn't surprised when she ended up in line with Hillary on her quiz. "I'm very concerned about health care. To know that she is the one that is really the proponent for health care — I'm really glad to hear that."
Freshman Emzee Hilliard has already decided she's voting for Hillary. Even though she agrees with her on the issues, they're not the main reason she's on team Clinton.
"Being a female, of course I'm going to put my faith in a female candidate," she said. "And I just personally believe she is the best candidate. Not just only because she is a woman or a white woman, but because she has the political backbone to do it."
Bridgette Rankin, on the other hand, likes a lot of Clinton's policies, but the senior will not be voting for her.
"I'm not sure how I feel about a woman running our country," she said after learning her views on health care and Iraq were in line with Clinton's. She plans on voting for Barack Obama.
Obama was the clear front-runner in our campus survey. Most students we spoke to were excited to vote for him on Saturday, including most of the black students.
"I'm going to be blunt with you — it's because he's black," said Larry Dow, who also lined up with the Illinois senator on his issues quiz.
"Hillary and I share the common ground that we are both females, but that's about it," said sophomore Charlissa Spencer. "But that's it — we have nothing else in common." Her quiz results put her in Hillary's camp, but as a black woman, she said her loyalties lie more with her race and less with her gender.
"You want someone you connect with, who you share experiences with, and I think Barack is the best candidate for that," said freshman Tomas Glenn, even though his quiz results were strong for Hillary. "Barack and I have similar backgrounds."
Tamara Lee is a black woman who thinks everyone is focusing far too much on gender and race in the upcoming primary.
"The issues have been thrown out and people are focusing on the stereotypical 'who's gonna be president, a black man or a woman?' " the freshman said.
Lee was a John Edwards supporter, but said she will probably vote for Obama since she doesn't think the former North Carolina senator will win.
"This election is not about issues," she said sarcastically. "It's about making history."