CLEMSON, South Carolina — With the South Carolina presidential primary elections just three months away, about half the state’s voters in both parties say they are following the news about the race, but still are undecided about whom they will support.

Palmetto PollFifty-eight percent of Republicans and 48 percent of Democrats reportedly haven’t decided which candidate they will vote for in the state’s upcoming February presidential primaries while a little more than one-third of the voters in the two parties indicated a favorite candidate.

These results represent the first Clemson University Palmetto Poll in the 2016 election process. The telephone poll of 600 respondents in each political party was conducted Oct. 13-23 and has a plus or minus four percent error margin. All respondents were voters in previous party primaries and plan to vote in the upcoming primary election.

The Palmetto State holds the important “First in the South” presidential primary position. Republicans will vote for their nominee candidate Feb. 20 and Democrats follow one week later on Feb. 27.

“We have an electorate interested in the 2016 presidential primary in South Carolina, but still undecided as to who will receive their allegiance,” said Clemson political scientist Dave Woodard. “Half the voters admit they are undecided, and those who have chosen a candidate freely admit they might change their minds before the February vote.”

Awareness of the candidates in both parties is high, with varying positive and negative opinions. Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton is the most recognized candidate and has strong favorability ratings. The Republicans, with a large field of 15 candidates, have 10 who are recognized by at least 90 percent of the poll respondents.

If the 2016 presidential primary in South Carolina were held today, nearly half (43 percent) of the Democratic voters polled would choose Hillary Clinton, with 50 percent undecided.

In agreement with most national polls, Donald Trump leads the field with 23 percent and Ben Carson is in second place with 19 percent among the Republican voters. If it were a candidate, “undecided” would be third in the race.

“The implication is clear, it seems that voters are undecided and they are willing to change their minds,” said Clemson political science professor Bruce Ransom.

Among Democrats, only 28 percent said they were likely to stay with their October choice in February, and the number for Republicans is about the same, around one-third or 32 percent said they will stay with their current choice.

Asked which qualities in a candidate are most important in deciding support, nearly half of Democratic voters cited a candidate’s political experience, followed by nearly one-third favoring a candidate’s business and private sector experience.

Most Republican voters say experience and a proven record are equally as important as new ideas and a different approach as preferred qualities.

In a related topical question, respondents were asked about the economy, as it historically has been the most important issue in any campaign. Democrats (73 percent) believe things are getting better or staying the same under their president and Republicans (61 percent) believe just the opposite.

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Executive summary

In thinking about the 2016 presidential election, which one of the following choices best describes your thoughts about the contest?

Democratic candidates:

1. Have a good idea about who I will support
39%
2. Have been following the news, but haven’t decided
48%
3. Not paying much attention to the race
8%
4. DK/NA
5%

Republican candidates:

1. Have a good idea about who I will support
36%
2. Have been following the news, but haven’t decided
58%
3. Not paying much attention to the race
3%
4. DK/NA
3%

 

Please tell me if you have ever heard of _______ and whether you have a positive or negative opinion of him or her.

 
Heard of Positive Negative
Hillary Clinton
99% 71% 16%
Bernie Sanders
77% 52% 16%
Martin O’Malley
38% 31% 17%
 
Heard of Positive Negative
Donald Trump
100% 54% 32%
Lindsey Graham
100% 44% 44%
Jeb Bush
100% 49% 35%
Mike Huckabee
99% 67% 20%
Rand Paul
98% 32% 43%
Chris Christie
96% 41% 38%
Marco Rubio
96% 74% 13%
Ben Carson
96% 85% 7%
Rick Santorum
95% 48% 25%
Ted Cruz
93% 61% 20%
Carly Fiorina
88% 68% 19%
Bobby Jindal
80% 55% 21%
George Pataki
72% 13% 43%
John Kasich
71% 48% 22%
Jim Gilmore
28% 12% 33%

 

If the 2016 presidential primary in South Carolina were held today, for whom would you vote?

Democratic candidates:

Hillary Clinton
43%
Bernie Sanders
6%
Martin O’Malley
1%
Undecided-DK/NA
50%

Republican candidates:

Donald Trump
23%
Ben Carson
19%
Marco Rubio
9%
Ted Cruz
8%
Jeb Bush
7%
Carly Fiorina
6%
Lindsey Graham
3%
Mike Huckabee
2%
John Kasich
2%
Chris Christie
1%
Rand Paul
1%
Bobby Jindal
1%
Rick Santorum
0%
George Pataki
0%
Jim Gilmore
0%
Undecided-DK/NA
15%

 

Now, thinking about the economy of the United States, do you think it is getting better, staying about the same or getting worse?

Democratic:

1. Getting better
40%
2. Staying about the same
33%
3. Getting worse
21%
4. DK/NA
6%

Republican:

1. Getting better
8%
2. Staying about the same
30%
3. Getting worse
61%
4. DK/NA
1%

 

Which of the following qualities is most important to you in deciding whom you will support?

Democratic candidates:

1. That the candidate is a true liberal
4%
2. The candidate’s political experience
47%
3. The candidate’s business and private sector experience
30%
4. DK/NA
19%

Republican candidates:

1. Experience and a proven record
8%
2. New ideas and a difference approach
24%
3. Both are equally important
64%
4. DK/NA
4%