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What We’ve Learned from Older Voters in South Carolina

On Saturday, South Carolina took its turn in the political spotlight as host of the “First in the South” Republican primary, following prior contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada.

In the nation's fastest-growing state, most Republican voters supported former President Trump over former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, 59.8% to 39.5%. Looking deeper into the data, Trump captured the rural vote and won by a near 3 to 1 margin in Spartanburg and Florence, while Haley carried the state’s capital of Columbia as well as Charleston and Hilton Head.

Turnout was up by 20,000 voters compared to 2016 – the last time there was a competitive Republican presidential primary. And, once again older voters showed up in force. According to CNN Exit Polls, voters 50 and over cast 70% of the ballots, up from 63% in 2016.

(South Carolina residents gather for a roundtable discussion on Social Security)

In advance of Primary Day, AARP South Carolina heard directly from our members and other older South Carolinians at our roundtable sessions and teletown halls as well as at candidate events across the state. Here’s what we learned:

1. Social Security is top of mind.
At one breakfast roundtable, folks from across the state expressed concern about Social Security solvency and a desire for political candidates to be honest about what’s at stake for current and future retirees and what they would do if elected. As one participant from Columbia put it: "We need more than a sentence about Social Security. We need a paragraph and for candidates to turn that into a bill."

2. They are worried about their financial security.
We heard a lot of concerns about the rising costs – whether for housing, groceries or taxes – and the impact that has on their family budgets, now and into the future. Conversations also put a spotlight on the financial strain felt by family caregivers with folks sharing stories about leaving the workforce earlier than planned, working fewer hours than they otherwise would, and exhausting their own savings to care for loved ones.

3. They want elected leaders to solve problems.
We heard from a lot of older voters about the need for more cooperation and a focus on common-sense solutions. They are concerned about the future for themselves and even more so for future generations.

4. More education is needed about how, when and where to vote.  
South Carolina’s election laws have changed in the last two years, making voter education programs critically important – particularly to reach older South Carolinians in rural areas.

As election season continues, AARP certainly will be urging candidates for federal, state and local office to really pay attention to older voters – listening to their concerns and addressing the issues they care about. We’ll be asking every candidate for federal office what they would do to protect Social Security and support family caregivers. And, we will once again be producing state election guides that provide the most up-to-date information about voting rules, procedures, and deadlines.

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