South Carolina Government
Formation1789; 235 years ago (1789)
Founding documentSouth Carolina Constitution
JurisdictionState of South Carolina
Legislative branch
LegislatureGeneral Assembly
Meeting placeState House
Executive branch
AppointerElected At Large
HeadquartersState House
Judicial branch
CourtSupreme Court
SeatColumbia, SC

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.

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.

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. As of 2023, the Republican Party controls eight of 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.

South Carolina State House

Executive branch

Governor and lieutenant governor

Main articles: Governor of South Carolina and Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina

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.

Elected Cabinet

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
Office Office Holder Party Since Method of selection Term
Governor of South Carolina Henry McMaster   Republican January 24, 2017 Elected at-large 4 years, renewable once consecutively
Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina Pamela Evette   Republican January 9, 2019 Elected at-large in tandem with the governor 4 years, no limit
Attorney General of South Carolina Alan Wilson   Republican January 12, 2011 Elected at-large 4 years, no limit
Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers   Republican September 14, 2004 Elected at-large 4 years, no limit
Comptroller General Brian J. Gaines   Democratic[1] May 12, 2023[a] Elected at-large 4 years, no limit
Secretary of State Mark Hammond   Republican January 15, 2003 Elected at-large 4 years, no limit
Treasurer Curtis Loftis   Republican January 12, 2011 Elected at-large 4 years, no limit
South Carolina Superintendent of Education Ellen Weaver   Republican January 11, 2023 Elected at-large 4 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.[2]

Legislative branch

Main article: South Carolina General Assembly

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.

See also: South Carolina Supreme Court


South Carolina Constitution

Main article: South Carolina Constitution

South Carolina has had seven constitutions:

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.[4]

Law enforcement agencies

Local government

See also: List of municipalities in South Carolina and List of counties in South Carolina

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."[5] The initial charters gave towns regulatory power which they used to "appoint constables, levy fines, and enact ordinances."[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[7] 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.[8]

Compared to cities in neighboring states, South Carolina cities are fairly small in size and population, since state law makes annexation difficult.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] More stringent petition requirements are added due to the lowered petitioner threshold.[12] 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.[13] 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.[9]

Federal and State representation

US Senate

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

Senator Party Since
Lindsey Graham Republican January 3, 2003
Tim Scott Republican January 2, 2013

US House of Representatives

South Carolina currently has seven representatives in Congress:

District Representative Party Since
U.S. Rep. District 1 Nancy Mace Republican January 3, 2021
U.S. Rep. District 2 Joe Wilson Republican December 18, 2001
U.S. Rep. District 3 Jeff Duncan Republican January 3, 2011
U.S. Rep. District 4 William Timmons Republican January 3, 2019
U.S. Rep. District 5 Ralph Norman Republican June 26, 2017
U.S. Rep. District 6 Jim Clyburn Democratic January 3, 1993
U.S. Rep. District 7 Russell Fry Republican January 3, 2023

A district map is found here.

Further information: Political party strength in South Carolina


South Carolina is part of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina in the federal judiciary. The district's cases are appealed to the Richmond-based United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.


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.[14][15]


The state's personal income tax has a maximum marginal tax rate of 7 percent on taxable income of $13,351 and above.[16]

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.[17] Counties may impose an additional 1% local option sales tax and other local sales taxes,[18] and local governments may impose a local accommodations tax of up to 3%.[17]

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.[18][19]

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.[20]

Presidential elections through history

United States presidential election results for South Carolina[21]
Year Republican Democratic Third party
No.  % No.  % No.  %
2020 1,385,103 55.11% 1,091,541 43.43% 36,685 1.46%
2016 1,155,389 54.94% 855,373 40.67% 92,265 4.39%
2012 1,071,645 54.56% 865,941 44.09% 26,532 1.35%
2008 1,034,896 53.87% 862,449 44.90% 23,624 1.23%
2004 937,974 57.98% 661,699 40.90% 18,057 1.12%
2000 786,426 56.83% 566,039 40.91% 31,312 2.26%
1996 573,458 49.89% 504,051 43.85% 71,948 6.26%
1992 577,507 48.02% 479,514 39.88% 145,506 12.10%
1988 606,443 61.50% 370,554 37.58% 9,012 0.91%
1984 615,539 63.55% 344,470 35.57% 8,531 0.88%
1980 441,207 49.57% 427,560 48.04% 21,316 2.39%
1976 346,140 43.13% 450,825 56.17% 5,629 0.70%
1972 478,427 70.58% 189,270 27.92% 10,183 1.50%
1968 254,062 38.09% 197,486 29.61% 215,434 32.30%
1964 309,048 58.89% 215,700 41.10% 8 0.00%
1960 188,558 48.76% 198,129 51.24% 1 0.00%
1956 75,700 25.18% 136,372 45.37% 88,511 29.45%
1952 168,082 49.28% 173,004 50.72% 0 0.00%
1948 5,386 3.78% 34,423 24.14% 102,762 72.08%
1944 4,610 4.46% 90,601 87.64% 8,164 7.90%
1940 4,360 4.37% 95,470 95.63% 2 0.00%
1936 1,646 1.43% 113,791 98.57% 0 0.00%
1932 1,978 1.89% 102,347 98.03% 82 0.08%
1928 5,858 8.54% 62,700 91.39% 47 0.07%
1924 1,123 2.21% 49,008 96.56% 621 1.22%
1920 2,610 3.91% 64,170 96.05% 28 0.04%
1916 1,550 2.42% 61,846 96.71% 556 0.87%
1912 536 1.06% 48,357 95.94% 1,512 3.00%
1908 3,945 5.94% 62,288 93.84% 146 0.22%
1904 2,554 4.63% 52,563 95.36% 1 0.00%
1900 3,579 7.04% 47,233 92.96% 0 0.00%
1896 9,313 13.51% 58,801 85.30% 824 1.20%
1892 13,345 18.93% 54,680 77.56% 2,479 3.52%
1888 13,736 17.17% 65,824 82.28% 437 0.55%
1884 21,730 23.41% 69,845 75.25% 1,237 1.33%
1880 57,954 34.13% 111,236 65.51% 603 0.36%
1876 91,786 50.24% 90,897 49.76% 0 0.00%
1872 72,290 75.73% 22,699 23.78% 463 0.49%
1868 62,301 57.93% 45,237 42.07% 0 0.00%
Historic presidential elections in South Carolina[b]
Election Candidate Party Election




1788 George Washington None Green tickY 7
1792 George Washington None Green tickY 8
1796 Thomas Jefferson Democratic-Republican Red XN
1800 Thomas Jefferson Democratic-Republican Green tickY
1804 Thomas Jefferson Democratic-Republican Green tickY 10
1808 James Madison Democratic-Republican Green tickY
1812 James Madison Democratic-Republican Green tickY 11
1816 James Monroe Democratic-Republican Green tickY
1820 James Monroe Democratic-Republican Green tickY
1824 Andrew Jackson Democratic-Republican Red XN
1828 Andrew Jackson Democratic Green tickY
1832 John Floyd Nullifier Red XN
1836 Willie Mangum Whig Red XN
1840 Martin Van Buren Democratic Red XN
1844 James K. Polk Democratic Green tickY 9
1848 Lewis Cass Democratic Red XN
1852 Franklin Pierce Democratic Green tickY 8
1856 James Buchanan Democratic Green tickY
1860 John C. Breckinridge Democratic Red XN
1864 United States Civil War 0
1868 Ulysses S. Grant Republican Green tickY 6
1872 Ulysses S. Grant Republican Green tickY 7
1876 Rutherford B. Hayes Republican Green tickY
1880 Winfield S. Hancock Democratic Red XN
1884 Grover Cleveland Democratic Green tickY 9
1888 Grover Cleveland Democratic Red XN
1892 Grover Cleveland Democratic Green tickY
1896 William Jennings Bryan Democratic Populist Red XN
1900 William Jennings Bryan Democratic Populist Red XN
1900 Alton B. Parker Democratic Red XN
1908 William Jennings Bryan Democratic Red XN
1912 Woodrow Wilson Democratic Green tickY
1916 Woodrow Wilson Democratic Green tickY
1920 James M. Cox Democratic Red XN
1924 John W. Davis Democratic Red XN
1928 Alfred E. Smith Democratic Red XN
1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt Democratic Green tickY 8
1936 Franklin D. Roosevelt Democratic Green tickY
1940 Franklin D. Roosevelt Democratic Green tickY
1944 Franklin D. Roosevelt Democratic Green tickY
1948 Strom Thurmond States' Rights Democrat Red XN
1952 Adlai Stevenson Democratic Red XN
1956 Adlai Stevenson Democratic Red XN
1960 John F. Kennedy Democratic Green tickY
1964 Barry Goldwater Republican Red XN
1968 Richard Nixon Republican Green tickY
1972 Richard Nixon Republican Green tickY
1976 Jimmy Carter Democratic Green tickY
1980 Ronald Reagan Republican Green tickY
1984 Ronald Reagan Republican Green tickY
1988 George H. W. Bush Republican Green tickY
1992 George H. W. Bush Republican Red XN
1996 Bob Dole Republican Red XN
2000 George W. Bush Republican Green tickY
2004 George W. Bush Republican Green tickY
2008 John McCain Republican Red XN
2012 Mitt Romney Republican Red XN 9
2016 Donald Trump Republican Green tickY
2020 Donald Trump Republican Red XN


  1. ^ Gaines was appointed by the governor as a recess appointment following the resignation of Richard Eckstrom.
  2. ^ 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. ^ Folks, Will. "South Carolina Democrats Finally 'Win' A Statewide Office". FITSNews. Retrieved 21 May 2023.
  2. ^ "South Carolina SC – Elected State Government Officials, E-mail Addresses". Retrieved July 31, 2010.
  3. ^ Historical Census Browser, 1900 US Census, University of Virginia (Archived 2007-08-23 at the Wayback Machine). Retrieved March 15, 2008.
  4. ^ "Constitutions", The South Carolina Encyclopedia, Walter Edgar, University of South Carolina Press
  5. ^ a b Downey, Thomas More. Planting a capitalist south : the transformation of western South Carolina, 1790-1860. p. 169. OCLC 46403540.
  6. ^ Charlie B. Tyler, "The South Carolina Governance Project", Appendix 5, University of South Carolina, 1998, p. 221
  7. ^ a b Tyler (1998), "The South Carolina Governance Project"], p. 222
  8. ^ 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 "__________" '."
  9. ^ a b Wesley E. Henderson, Note, Annexation in South Carolina, 17 S.E. Envtl. L.J. 235, 244 (2003).
  10. ^ S.C. Code Ann. § 5-3-150(3).
  11. ^ S.C. Code Ann. § 5-3-150(1).
  12. ^ 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).
  13. ^ S.C. Code Ann. § 5-3-300.
  14. ^ "Video Poker Outlawed In South Carolina".
  15. ^ Statement by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division regarding the change of Video Poker Machine Laws (In PDF Format)
  16. ^ South Carolina Personal income tax,, February 4, 2009. Retrieved March 15, 2009.
  17. ^ a b Sales and Use Tax Seminar Manual 2007, South Carolina Department of Revenue, January 2007. Retrieved March 15, 2009.
  18. ^ a b A General Guide To South Carolina Sales and Use Tax, South Carolina Department of Revenue, October 12, 2007. Retrieved March 15, 2009.
  19. ^ "Code of Laws - Title 12 - Chapter 36 - South Carolina Sales And Use Tax Act". Retrieved 2019-10-23.
  20. ^ South Carolina Inheritance and estate taxes,, February 4, 2009. Retrieved March 15, 2009.
  21. ^ Leip, David. "Presidential General Election Results Comparison – South Carolina". US Election Atlas. Retrieved October 27, 2022.