South Carolina government and politics covers the three different branches of government, as well as the state constitution, law enforcement agencies, federal representation, state finances, and state taxes. South Carolina is a state in the United States of America and was the eighth admitted to the Union. The state of South Carolina was preceded by the Crown Colony of South Carolina, a constitutional monarchy which was overthrown during the American Revolution. Presently, South Carolina’s government is formed as a representative democracy.

Like most southern states, South Carolina is a largely conservative, Republican state. Since the Declaration of Independence, South Carolina’s politics have been controlled by three main parties: the Democratic Republican Party in the early 1800s, the Democratic Party through most of the 19th and 20th centuries, and the Republican Party in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

As of 2021, the Republican Party controls all nine state executive offices, both U.S. Senate offices, six of seven representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives, and a majority in the South Carolina General Assembly.

Current Party Control

OfficeRepublicanDemocratOffice Holder
GovernorCurrently ControlledLast Controlled 2003Henry McMaster
Lt. GovernorCurrently ControlledLast Controlled 2015Pamela Evette
State SenateCurrently ControlledLast Controlled 2000
State HouseCurrently ControlledLast Controlled 1994
U.S. SenatorCurrently ControlledLast Controlled 1964Lindsey Graham
U.S. SenatorCurrently ControlledLast Controlled 2005Tim Scott
U.S. Rep. District 1Currently ControlledLast Controlled 2021Nancy Mace
U.S. Rep. District 2Currently ControlledLast Controlled 1965Joe Wilson
U.S. Rep. District 3Currently ControlledLast Controlled 1995Jeff Duncan
U.S. Rep. District 4Currently ControlledLast Controlled 1993William Timmons (politician)
U.S. Rep. District 5Currently ControlledLast Controlled 2011Ralph Norman
U.S. Rep. District 6Last Controlled 1983Currently ControlledJim Clyburn
U.S. Rep. District 7Currently ControlledDistrict re-establishedTom Rice

Executive branch

Governor and Lieutenant Governor

Henry McMaster, the current Governor of SC

The Governor of South Carolina is the chief executive of the state. The governor is elected to a four-year term and may serve up to two consecutive terms. The current governor is Republican Henry McMaster who succeeded to the office of Governor of South Carolina when Governor Nikki Haley resigned to become the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. The Lieutenant Governor is the second-in-command of the state’s executive branch. The Lt. Governor assumes the office if the Governor is unable to fulfill his or her duties. Prior to the 2018 gubernatorial election, Governors and Lieutenant Governors were elected on separate tickets. But for the 2018 election and beyond, the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket.


The South Carolina Constitution provides for the separate election of eight executive officers, making a limited cabinet. This is a large number of elective offices compared to most states, which generally give the governor the executive power to appoint members of the cabinet.

South Carolina Executive Cabinet
OfficeOffice HolderPartySinceMethod of selectionTerm
Governor of South CarolinaSC Governor Henry McMaster 2019 (cropped).jpgHenry McMaster RepublicanJanuary 24, 2017Elected at-large4 years, renewable once consecutively
Lieutenant Governor of South CarolinaPamela Evette Headshot.jpgPamela Evette RepublicanJanuary 9, 2019Elected at-large in tandem with the governor4 years, no limit
Attorney General of South CarolinaJAG Passing Alan Wilson.jpgAlan Wilson RepublicanJanuary 12, 2011Elected at-large4 years, no limit
Commissioner of AgricultureSeal of South Carolina.svgHugh Weathers RepublicanJanuary 19, 2005Elected at-large4 years, no limit
Comptroller GeneralSeal of South Carolina.svgRichard Eckstrom RepublicanJanuary 15, 2003Elected at-large4 years, no limit
Secretary of StateSeal of South Carolina.svgMark Hammond RepublicanJanuary 15, 2003Elected at-large4 years, no limit
TreasurerCutris Loftis.jpgCurtis Loftis RepublicanJanuary 12, 2011Elected at-large4 years, no limit
Superintendent of EducationMolly Spearman and Kathy Maness (cropped).pngMolly Spearman RepublicanJanuary 14, 2015Elected at-large4 years, no limit

Each officer is elected at the same time as the governor. The separately elected positions allow for the possibility of multiple parties to be represented in the executive branch. The Governor’s Cabinet also contains several appointed positions. In most cases, persons who fill cabinet-level positions are recommended by the governor and appointed by the Senate.[1]

Legislative branch

The South Carolina General Assembly is the state legislature. It is bicameral, consisting of a 124-member South Carolina House of Representatives and a 46-member South Carolina Senate. Representatives serve two-year terms and Senators serve four-year terms. The two houses meet in the South Carolina State House. Each house is currently controlled by the Republican Party.

Originally, each county elected one senator and at least one representative. The vast differences between rural and urban counties gave rural areas an outsized influence over state government. This state of affairs ended with the federal case of Reynolds v. Sims, which mandated that state legislative districts be drawn based on population, and that that counties’ representatives must be roughly equal.

Historic Party Control

Below is a chart of party control in the South Carolina General Assembly since 1868.

Judicial branch

The Family Court deals with all matters of domestic and family relationships, as well as generally maintaining exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving minors under the age of seventeen, excepting traffic and game law violations. Some criminal charges may come under Circuit Court jurisdiction.

The South Carolina Circuit Court is the trial court of general jurisdiction court for South Carolina. It consists of a civil division (the Court of Common Pleas) and a criminal division. (the Court of General Sessions). It is also a superior court, having limited appellate jurisdiction over appeals from the lower Probate Court, Magistrate’s Court, and Municipal Court, and appeals from the Administrative Law Judge Division, which hears matters relating to state administrative and regulatory agencies. South Carolina’s 46 counties are divided into 16 judicial circuits, and there are currently 46 judges. Circuit court judges are elected by the General Assembly to six-year terms.

The South Carolina Court of Appeals is the state intermediate appellate court. It hears all Circuit Court and Family Court appeals, excepting appeals that are within the seven classes of exclusive Supreme Court jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals is selected by the General Assembly to long six-year terms. The court comprises a chief judge, and eight associate judges, and may hear cases as the whole court, or as three panels with three judges each. The court may preside in any county.

The South Carolina Supreme Court is the state supreme court. The Chief Justice and four Associate Justices are elected to staggered ten-year terms. There are no limits on the number of terms a justice may serve, but there is a mandatory retirement age of 72. The overwhelming majority of vacancies on the Court occur when Justices reach this age, not through the refusal of the General Assembly to elect a sitting Justice to another term.

South Carolina Constitution

South Carolina has had seven constitutions:

  • 1776 – SC’s first constitution
  • 1778 – Disestablished the Anglican Church, created a popularly elected upper house
  • 1790 – Expanded upcountry representation, further established General Assembly control over all aspects of government
  • 1861 – Confederate constitution
  • 1865 – Required to be readmitted to the Union, abolished property owning qualifications to vote, created popularly elected governor and granted veto power
  • 1868 – Only constitution to be ratified by popular vote, provided for public education, abolished property ownership as a qualification for office holding, created counties with home rule, abolished race as limit on male suffrage
  • 1895 – effectively disenfranchised black voters, requiring poll taxes, and literacy tests, to register to vote. In 1900 African Americans were 58% of the state population.[2] This exclusion of blacks from the political system was largely enforced until after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which authorized federal oversight and enforcement of voter registration and elections to ensure citizens could exercise their constitutional rights.

Since 1895, many residents have called for a new Constitution, one that is not based on the politics of a post-Civil War population. Governor Mark Sanford called for constitutional reform in his 2008 State of the State speech. Several hundred amendments have been made to the 1895 Constitution (in 1966 there were 330 amendments). Amendments have been created to comply with federal acts, and for many other issues. The volume of amendments makes South Carolina’s constitution one of the longest in the nation.[3]

Law enforcement agencies

Local government

Historically, local governments in South Carolina have been fairly weak. For the most part, until the 1830s, towns were controlled by districts. According to historian Tom Downey, “the movement for incorporation initiated with a desire to implant order on unruly elements…which growing villages seemed to attract all too frequently.”[4] The initial charters gave towns regulatory power which they used to “appoint constables, levy fines, and enact ordinances.”[4] But, town councils were largely unable to pay their expenses with funds raised by just their fine revenue. In the late 1830s, the General Assembly started allowing select towns to tax property within their corporate limits.

The 1867 constitution established home rule for counties.[5] This was changed under the 1895 Constitution, which made no provision for local government and effectively reduced counties to creatures of the state. Each county’s delegation to the General Assembly also doubled as its county council. Under this system, the state senator from each county exercised the most power.[6] Reynolds v. Sims required reapportionment according to the principle of “one man, one vote”, which resulted in legislative districts crossing county lines. However, it was not until 1973 that the constitution was amended to provide for limited home rule at the county level. The Home Rule Act in 1975 implemented this.[6] This law provided for elected councils in each county. Nonetheless, the legislature still devotes considerable time to local issues, and county legislative delegations still decide many matters that are handled at the county level in most other states.

Municipal governments may incorporate as cities or towns. However, there is no legal difference between the two.[7]

Compared to cities in neighboring states, South Carolina cities are fairly small in size and population, since state law makes annexation difficult.[8] To expand their borders, cities in South Carolina generally have three options when annexing contiguous land. First, if all property owners in a given area of land sign and file a petition with the municipality requesting annexation, the municipality may approve the petition and enact an ordinance declaring the annexation.[9] Second, 75% of the freeholders in an area owning 75% or more of the assessed property value in that area may file a petition for annexation which the municipality may approve.[10] More stringent petition requirements are added due to the lowered petitioner threshold.[11] Finally, 25% of electors in an area can file a petition to initiate an annexation election which in turn requires a majority of voters to approve the annexation.[12] This option previously required that 25% of freeholders file the petition for an election, but that was found to be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.[8]

Federal and State Representation

Like most Southern states, South Carolina consistently voted Democratic in the 19th century and much of the 20th century as a part of the Solid South. The Democratic block was largely maintained by the disenfranchisement of most black voters from 1865 to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Republican Party became competitive in the 1960 presidential election when Richard Nixon lost the state to John F. Kennedy by just two percentage points. In 1964, Barry Goldwater became the first Republican to win the state since Reconstruction.

Since the election of 1964, South Carolina has voted for the Republican party in every presidential election, with the exception of 1976 when Jimmy Carter, a southern Democrat, was elected president. However, in state-wide and local elections, conservative Democrats still won many races until the end of the 20th century. The last conservative Democratic governor to be elected in South Carolina was Jim Hodges in 1998, and the last conservative Democratic U.S. Senator to serve was Fritz Hollings until 2005. Until the 1990s, South Carolina had a majority Democratic representation in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the General Assembly of South Carolina. While South Carolina has shifted between the Democratic and Republican parties, politics in South Carolina has consistently been conservative.

US Senate

The current South Carolina delegation to the U.S. Senate:

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, Official Photo, 113th Congress.jpg
Lindsey GrahamRepublicanJanuary 3, 2003
Tim Scott, official portrait, 113th Congress.jpg
Tim ScottRepublicanJanuary 2, 2013

US House of Representatives

South Carolina currently has seven representatives in Congress:

Nancy Mace.jpgU.S. Rep. District 1Nancy MaceRepublicanJanuary 3, 2021
Joe Wilson official congressional photo (cropped).jpg
U.S. Rep. District 2Joe WilsonRepublicanDecember 18, 2001
Jeff Duncan 113th Congress.jpg
U.S. Rep. District 3Jeff DuncanRepublicanJanuary 3, 2011
William Timmons, official portrait, 116th Congress (cropped).jpg
U.S. Rep. District 4William TimmonsRepublicanJanuary 3, 2019
Ralph Norman official photo (cropped).jpg
U.S. Rep. District 5Ralph NormanRepublicanJune 26, 2017
James E. Clyburn 113th Congress.jpg
U.S. Rep. District 6Jim ClyburnDemocraticJanuary 3, 1993
Tom Rice 113th Congress.jpg
U.S. Rep. District 7Tom RiceRepublicanJanuary 3, 2013

A district map is found here.


The state does not allow casino gambling, but it authorized the operation of video poker machines throughout the state. This yielded revenue of approximately $2 billion per year deposited into the state’s coffers. But, in 2000 the legislature banned video poker, requiring machines to be shut off and removed from the state by July 8.[13][14]


The state’s personal income tax has a maximum marginal tax rate of 7 percent on taxable income of $13,351 and above.[15]

State sales tax revenues are used exclusively for education. South Carolina has a 6% state sales tax, but when combined with local and county taxes, South Carolina has the second-highest sales tax in the United States next to California. In Charleston, South Carolina, the tax rates equals 10.5% with state tax, county tax, local option tax, and the hospitality tax. Some items have different rates; e.g., the tax is 3% on unprepared food items and 7% on sleeping accommodation rentals. Individuals 85 or older get a one-percent exclusion from the general sales tax.[16] Counties may impose an additional 1% local option sales tax and other local sales taxes,[17] and local governments may impose a local accommodations tax of up to 3%.[16]

South Carolina imposes a casual excise tax of 5% on the fair market value of all motor vehicles, motorcycles, boats, motors and airplanes transferred between individuals. The maximum casual excise tax is $500.[17][18]

Property tax is administered and collected by local governments with assistance from the South Carolina Department of Revenue. Both real and personal property are subject to tax. Approximately two-thirds of county-levied property taxes are used for the support of public education. Municipalities levy a tax on property situated within the limits of the municipality for services provided by the municipality. The tax is paid by individuals, corporations and partnerships owning property within the state. Intangible personal property is exempt from taxation. There is no inheritance tax.[19]

Presidential elections through history

Historical presidential elections in South Carolina.[a]




1788George WashingtonNoneGreen tickY7
1792George WashingtonNoneGreen tickY8
1796Thomas JeffersonDemocratic-RepublicanRed XN
1800Thomas JeffersonDemocratic-RepublicanGreen tickY
1804Thomas JeffersonDemocratic-RepublicanGreen tickY10
1808James MadisonDemocratic-RepublicanGreen tickY
1812James MadisonDemocratic-RepublicanGreen tickY11
1816James MonroeDemocratic-RepublicanGreen tickY
1820James MonroeDemocratic-RepublicanGreen tickY
1824Andrew JacksonDemocratic-RepublicanRed XN
1828Andrew JacksonDemocraticGreen tickY
1832John FloydNullifierRed XN
1836Willie MangumWhigRed XN
1840Martin Van BurenDemocraticRed XN
1844James K. PolkDemocraticGreen tickY9
1848Lewis CassDemocraticRed XN
1852Franklin PierceDemocraticGreen tickY8
1856James BuchananDemocraticGreen tickY
1860John C. BreckinridgeDemocraticRed XN
1864United States Civil War0
1868Ulysses S. GrantRepublicanGreen tickY6
1872Ulysses S. GrantRepublicanGreen tickY7
1876Rutherford B. HayesRepublicanGreen tickY
1880Winfield S. HancockDemocraticRed XN
1884Grover ClevelandDemocraticGreen tickY9
1888Grover ClevelandDemocraticRed XN
1892Grover ClevelandDemocraticGreen tickY
1896William Jennings BryanDemocratic PopulistRed XN
1900William Jennings BryanDemocratic PopulistRed XN
1900Alton B. ParkerDemocraticRed XN
1908William Jennings BryanDemocraticRed XN
1912Woodrow WilsonDemocraticGreen tickY
1916Woodrow WilsonDemocraticGreen tickY
1920James M. CoxDemocraticRed XN
1924John W. DavisDemocraticRed XN
1928Alfred E. SmithDemocraticRed XN
1932Franklin D. RooseveltDemocraticGreen tickY8
1936Franklin D. RooseveltDemocraticGreen tickY
1940Franklin D. RooseveltDemocraticGreen tickY
1944Franklin D. RooseveltDemocraticGreen tickY
1948Strom ThurmondStates’ Rights DemocratRed XN
1952Adlai StevensonDemocraticRed XN
1956Adlai StevensonDemocraticRed XN
1960John F. KennedyDemocraticGreen tickY
1964Barry GoldwaterRepublicanRed XN
1968Richard NixonRepublicanGreen tickY
1972Richard NixonRepublicanGreen tickY
1976Jimmy CarterDemocraticGreen tickY
1980Ronald ReaganRepublicanGreen tickY
1984Ronald ReaganRepublicanGreen tickY
1988George H. W. BushRepublicanGreen tickY
1992George H. W. BushRepublicanRed XN
1996Bob DoleRepublicanRed XN
2000George W. BushRepublicanGreen tickY
2004George W. BushRepublicanGreen tickY
2008John McCainRepublicanRed XN
2012Mitt RomneyRepublicanRed XN9
2016Donald TrumpRepublicanGreen tickY
2020Donald TrumpRepublicanRed XN


  1. ^ This chart denotes which presidential candidate received South Carolina’s electoral votes in each election. Victors are marked with checks and losers with “x”.


  1. ^ “South Carolina SC – Elected State Government Officials, E-mail Addresses”. Retrieved July 31, 2010.
  2. ^ Historical Census Browser, 1900 US Census, University of Virginia Archived 2007-08-23 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved March 15, 2008.
  3. ^ The South Carolina Encyclopedia, Walter Edgar, University of South Carolina Press
  4. ^ a b Downey, Thomas More. Planting a capitalist south : the transformation of western South Carolina, 1790-1860. p. 169. OCLC 46403540.
  5. ^ Charlie B. Tyler, “The South Carolina Governance Project”, Appendix 5, University of South Carolina, 1998, p. 221
  6. ^ a b Tyler (1998), “The South Carolina Governance Project”], p. 222
  7. ^ Section 5-7-20 Archived 2009-04-01 at the Wayback Machine of the South Carolina Code of Laws. “The corporate name of every city or town incorporated under this title shall be ‘the city of “__________” ‘ or ‘the town of “__________” ‘.
  8. ^ a b Wesley E. Henderson, Note, Annexation in South Carolina, 17 S.E. Envtl. L.J. 235, 244 (2003).
  9. ^ S.C. Code Ann. § 5-3-150(3).
  10. ^ S.C. Code Ann. § 5-3-150(1).
  11. ^ See id. (additional petition requirements include requiring the petition be open on demand to those affected by the potential annexation and requiring the municipality to give notice of a public hearing).
  12. ^ S.C. Code Ann. § 5-3-300.
  13. ^ “Video Poker Outlawed In South Carolina”.
  14. ^ Statement by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division regarding the change of Video Poker Machine Laws (In PDF Format)
  15. ^ South Carolina Personal income tax,, February 4, 2009. Retrieved March 15, 2009.
  16. ^ a b Sales and Use Tax Seminar Manual 2007, South Carolina Department of Revenue, January 2007. Retrieved March 15, 2009.
  17. ^ a b A General Guide To South Carolina Sales and Use Tax, South Carolina Department of Revenue, October 12, 2007. Retrieved March 15, 2009.
  18. ^ “Code of Laws – Title 12 – Chapter 36 – South Carolina Sales And Use Tax Act”. Retrieved 2019-10-23.
  19. ^ South Carolina Inheritance and estate taxes,, February 4, 2009. Retrieved March 15, 2009.