Democrats, but hardly liberal

COLUMBIA -- Black South Carolinians are Democrats.

But they're far from liberal.

Blacks in South Carolina have nuanced, sometimes seemingly conflicting opinions that reflect, at times, the state's conservatism, a groundbreaking Winthrop/ETV poll found.

According to the poll:

• Two-thirds say they are Democrats, and four in five plan to vote in the state's January Democratic presidential primary. But almost six in 10 describe their political beliefs as conservative or moderate.

• Despite that conservatism, more than half say government "definitely" should ensure every American has a "decent standard of living," a liberal belief at odds with free-market capitalism.

• Almost three-quarters say gay sex is strongly or somewhat unacceptable. Yet nearly half have gay relatives or friends.

• More than half say having a child outside marriage is strongly or somewhat acceptable. Four in 10 disagree.

• Black South Carolinians say their race, faith and gender define them. But so does their nationality, and being Southern and South Carolinians.

Adolphus Belk Jr., co-director of Winthrop's African-American Studies department and co-author of the new poll released last week, isn't surprised by the poll's findings.

"There has long been a strand of conservative political thought that's run through the African-American community," Belk said.

"Even though African-Americans in South Carolina and the nation generally are Democrat," said Belk, they remain social conservatives -- "more conservative than the general population."

The poll is the first in recent memory focused exclusively on black South Carolinians.

Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon, who co-wrote the poll with Belk, said the poll is important because of the role blacks play in Southern politics.

Huffmon said a staple of his class on Southern politics is V.O. Key's 1949 text, "Southern Politics in State and Nation." At the top of Page 5, Huffmon said, is a quote that says, "In its grand outline, the politics of the South revolves around the position of the Negro."

While the language is outdated, the sentiment is not, Huffmon said. Until the 1980s, Southern politics was dominated by race. But that has changed some, said Huffmon, who is white.

On faith

A look at how black South Carolinians view faith:

97 Percentage of those surveyed who said religion is very or fairly important in their lives; 88.4 percent said very important

74 Percentage of those polled who said they were Protestants

74 Percentage who said they believe "the Bible is the literal word of God and without error"

83 Percentage who said they attend church at least twice a month; 57 percent said they go every week