CLEMSON, S.C. — With a year or less to go before the GOP primary of June 2014 and fall general midterm election, the incumbents of South Carolina’s senatorial and gubernatorial offices may decide to “stump the state” more often to reacquaint themselves with voters.

A new Clemson University Palmetto Poll finds Republican voters with mixed emotions about their key elected incumbents. South Carolina is a “red” state with Republicans holding the major statewide offices of U.S. Senator and Governor. This edition of the Palmetto Poll registered their popularity with 500 Republican voters who participated in two of the past three GOP primaries.

Republican voters are less familiar with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who was appointed in December 2012, than U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley. All three incumbents are candidates for re-election in November 2014. However, before the general election in the fall, all three must win a Republican primary in June.

“Republican primaries regularly attract about 20 percent of the registered voters, and they are more conservative and more ideological than voters in the general election,” said Clemson political science professor Dave Woodard. “It often happens that popular incumbents are derailed on the way to re-election by upstart challengers in GOP primaries.”

Large percentages of respondents knew their elected representatives, with results showing Graham at 99 percent, Haley at 97 percent and Scott at 74 percent recognition.

Even though recently appointed and not as well known, Scott had a more favorable rating with the Republican voters than 12-year incumbent Graham. About half of those surveyed had a favorable impression of Graham, while two-thirds of the base Republican vote favored Haley and Scott.

53% favorable 36% unfavorable 11% undecided
69% favorable 6% unfavorable 25% undecided
70% favorable 18% unfavorable 12% undecided

The Poll also queried respondents about their likelihood of re-electing the incumbent regardless of who runs against him/her next year. The answers reflect the loyalty each candidate inspires with frequent voters, measuring the core support of any incumbent in a heated election.

Results showed Scott has a stronger base of allegiance than the senior senator from South Carolina and that Scott still has people who don’t know who he is, Woodard said. Results also indicated that Haley is fairly well-liked by voters.

“Most incumbents have a “re-elect regardless” number in the 30s, so the governor’s numbers are quite strong,” Woodard said. “That cannot be said about Graham, his numbers show that more than two-thirds of the base GOP voters are unhappy with him, with almost 20 percent of them saying they would not vote for him in 2014.”

Respondents were asked why they disliked Graham in an open-ended question, and frequent responses were his lack of conservative principles, association with Sen. John McCain and tendency to compromise too much with Democrats.

Lindsey Graham
Nikki Haley
Tim Scott
Vote to re-elect regardless
Depends on who runs
Will not vote for this person
Don’t know, no answer

A frequently mentioned criticism of Graham was his stance in support of the Obama policy of using missiles in the Syrian crisis. A final question of the Palmetto Poll asked the GOP voters about this policy. Results showed more than two-thirds of the Republican voters (67 percent) oppose this policy and Graham’s position on the issue.

The poll was conducted Sept. 18-23, and the margin of error is plus or minus 5 percent.


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