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Fact Check: South Carolinas Military Tradition Not Unique
Friday, January 20, 2012 - 12:43pm
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Nothing gets a true South Carolinian’s heart beating faster than a salute to the state’s proud military tradition. A closer look at the data raises a question. What are they thinking about? Fort Sumter?

CNN moderator John King, booed at the outset of last night’s debate for questioning Newt Gingrich’s marital morals, received sustained applause when he prefaced a question about the candidates’ stance on veteran issues with the statement that “this is a state incredibly proud of its military tradition and incredibly proud of its veterans.”

South Carolina usually rewards candidates with military experience. But that is unlikely in Saturday’s Republican primary since with Texas Gov. Rick Perry out of the race, only libertarian Rand Paul among the remaining candidates has served the nation in uniform.

But what about the basic claim – that South Carolina has some unique relationship to the nation’s military tradition? The state does have an overrepresentation of military installations, including Fort Jackson, the army’s main basic training facility. But as far as local residents with military service, the state is not an outlier.

In fact, there are at least seven other states with the same or greater level of veterans as a share of the adult population, according to the Census Bureau. And with 9.3 percent of the nation’s population having served, South Carolina’s 11.6 percent rate is closer to the national norm than it is to Alaska, which leads the pack with 14.1 percent of its citizens claiming military service.

On the other hand, there is definitely a red-blue tilt in the distribution of veterans around the country. The states that have above average percentages are smaller, with more rural areas, and tend to vote Republican. South Carolina fits that pattern.

The states with the fewest military veterans in their populations tend to be have more highly educated residents, are industrial or post-industrial, and are dominated by the nation’s political and financial elites. The states at the bottom of the list are Massachusetts, Illinois, California, New Jersey and New York, which usually vote Democratic.

And guess which jurisdiction is at the very bottom of the list? The District of Columbia – the place where the decisions to send Americans into harm’s way are made.

VETERANS SHARE OF STATE OVER-18 POPULATION

STATE Percent

  Alaska 14.1
  Montana 12.5
  Virginia 12.3
  Wyoming 12.3
  Maine 12.2
  New Mexico 11.6
  South Carolina 11.6
  Washington 11.6
  Oklahoma 11.5
  Hawaii 11.4
  South Dakota 11.4
  Nevada 11.3
  Arkansas 11.2
  Oregon 11.2
  West Virginia 11.2
  Arizona 11.1
  New Hampshire 11.1
  Alabama 11
  Idaho 11
  Florida 10.9
  Missouri 10.9
  Delaware 10.6
  Nebraska 10.6
  Colorado 10.3
  Kansas 10.2
  North Carolina 10.1
  Ohio 10.1
  Tennessee 10.1
  Iowa 10
  North Dakota 10
  Pennsylvania 9.9
  Maryland 9.8
  Vermont 9.8
  Georgia 9.7
  Wisconsin 9.7
  Indiana 9.6
  Kentucky 9.6
  Minnesota 9.4
  United States 9.3
  Mississippi 9.3
  Louisiana 9.2
  Michigan 9.2
  Rhode Island 8.8
  Texas 8.8
  Connecticut 8.2
  Utah 8
  Massachusetts 7.8
  Illinois 7.7
  California 7
  New Jersey 6.7
  New York 6.3
  District of Columbia 6.1

spent 25 years as a foreign correspondent, economics writer and investigative business reporter for the Chicago Tribune and other publications. He is the author of the 2004 book, The $800 Million Pill: The Truth Behind the Cost of New Drugs.