With the completion of the South Carolina primary on Saturday and Newt Gingrich's win, it is clear that interest levels in the state and its residents have dwindled. Prior to primary day, the preferences of South Carolina voters were of intense interest to the nation -- and of course to the candidates swarming the states. Events, polls, debates and the media were all focused on South Carolina voters.
On the day before the election, GOP candidates held a combined 16 events throughout the state . Even comedian Stephen Colbert held a rally with Herman Cain, and the online world was full of chatter about Newt Gingrich's showdown with the media from Thursday night's debate and who took home the prize for best debater of the night. There have been five total debates in South Carolina since politicians first started announcing their candidacy -- three in the last week alone.
But now that Saturday has passed? Forget it. South Carolina will be lucky to see a presidential candidate in the next four years -- indeed, they may hardly see whoever is elected president until 2016. The state and its voters effectively don't matter now they have made their choice in the primary.
It's all a product of our November election rules. Because South Carolina has a law to allocate all of its electoral votes to the winner of the state, and since the outcome in November is not in question (a Republican is sure to carry the state in a nationally competitive year), there will be no incentive for the Republican nominee to return until the next election.
President Barack Obama will almost certainly skip the state as well. In fact, according to our Presidential Tracker, the president has visited South Carolina zero times since taking office in January of 2009. That's right. Zero. In contrast, he has held 14 separate events in neighboring North Carolina, which is also more likely to be a November battleground.
Just take a look at the two charts from Google Trends below that show the general search and news trend of interest in South Carolina voters and politics. The 2008 spike in interest in South Carolina and its voters is quite noticeable, but so too is the four-year drought in between presidential elections. Now, the cycle just repeated itself again this month as interest in South Carolina climbed back up during this year's primary season -- its inevitable decline already in motion.
So South Carolina voters will soon find themselves back in the undesirable position of being a "safe state" and be excluded from the national conversation come November. It's not one alone. Truly, most states don't matter in presidential elections in November. Thanks to current state rules governing the Electoral College-- specifically, the winner-take-all system that 48 of our 50 states use -- citizens in about 40 states will be effective spectators in the general elections. All the hail storm of promotional ads, fancy suits, political rhetoric, and rallying cries will be in the familiar states of Ohio, Florida and the like. For South Carolina? Just a memory.
The best way to make every voter matter in every election is the National Popular Vote plan. South Carolina, in fact, recently had a debate about the idea, with CSPAN coverage . Former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, a 2008 Republican presidential candidate, was among those championing the NPV proposal. The proposal keeps making steady progress and has a real chance to be in place by 2016.
The time has passed for South Carolina voters. We hope they enjoyed it while it lasted. Presidential candidates probably won't be back for another four years.
Learn more about the national popular vote plan for electing the president
This article was co-written by Katie Kelly, Communications Fellow at FairVote.