ROCK HILL, S.C. – The latest Winthrop Poll shows former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton have early leads in their parties for the 2008 presidential race in South Carolina, according to Winthrop University researchers. But many state residents still aren’t tuned into the upcoming primaries a year from now.
The Winthrop Poll asked residents who they were familiar with and whether residents had favorable or unfavorable opinions of declared and potential candidates. This is the second release of the Winthrop Poll, a long-term survey initiative conducted by the Winthrop’s Social and Behavioral Research Lab to gauge South Carolina residents’ opinions. The Winthrop Poll for Spring 2007 was conducted from Winthrop’s telephone survey research lab between Feb. 7 and Feb. 28, with 694 randomly selected South Carolinians age 18 and up. The results have a margin of error of plus/minus 3.72 percent.
With the S.C. Democratic presidential primary set for Jan. 29 next year, and the Republicans tentatively planning to hold their contest on Feb. 2, independents may end up being key to a primary victory for candidates in both parties. Scott Huffmon, director of both Winthrop’s research lab and the Winthrop Poll initiative, observed that with tight races where support is spread out among several candidates, a few independent voters, if they show up, can change the outcome.
A majority of South Carolinians, 54.6 percent, hold a favorable opinion of Giuliani, and his rating was even higher among Republicans. More than 3 out of 4 Republicans have a somewhat or very favorable opinion of Giuliani, the survey indicated.
“Giuliani seems to benefit from his prominence in the wake of the September 11th attacks,” said Huffmon. “As the primary season progresses, I think his favorability rating among Republicans might slip some as more Republicans become familiar with his stances on hot button issues such as abortion and gay rights.”
Among Republicans, the poll showed that 57.1 percent held a favorable opinion of Arizona Sen. John McCain. “Currently McCain leads the Republican pack in favorability ratings among independents. Given the trepidation with which he is viewed by some wings of the Republican Party, this support may be critical,” Huffmon said. “If McCain can lure these independent voters to the Republican primary, it may be just enough to push him ahead of the opposition. Independents may be especially important because McCain has an unfavorable rating from nearly a quarter of Republicans. This is a significant block of Republicans who will be actively looking for another candidate to support.”
Forty percent of Republicans polled were not familiar with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and more than two-thirds of South Carolinians were not familiar with staunch conservatives U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback.
Among Democrats, state residents regarded Clinton as somewhat or very favorable, 81.6 percent, followed by former N.C. Sen. John Edwards, 70.3 percent; and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, 67.4 percent. When independents considered the Democratic candidates, Edwards had a commanding lead in favorability. “Getting this support to translate into primary votes will be difficult, but may be necessary if he hopes to catch Hillary Clinton,” Huffmon said.
He observed that Clinton can’t go much higher in name recognition and that her negatives are pretty well set, so Edwards and Obama need to convert those who responded “not familiar” to “favorable” in order to catch Clinton.
In the general population, 42.4 percent of S.C. residents regarded Clinton favorably, while 37.9 percent regarded her as very unfavorable.
“Some might find it surprising that more than 4 in 10 South Carolinians hold a favorable view of Hillary Clinton,” Huffmon said. “However, those who dislike her REALLY dislike her. Fully 81% of her unfavorable ratings were ‘Very Unfavorable.’”
Also among Democrats, residents were not very familiar with Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, 58.1 percent; U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, 64.9 percent; General Wes Clark, 58.5 percent; and John Edwards, 14.8 percent.
“The ‘not familiar’ numbers among Democrats for Kucinich and Clark, two candidates who campaigned for president here in 2004, show that either political memories are short or that we are so far out from the election that voters aren’t really accessing those deeply stored memories yet,” Huffmon said. “The fact that 14.8 percent of Democrats are not familiar with John Edwards, the candidate who decisively won the 2004 SC Democratic primary, should serve as a real indicator that many South Carolinians simply aren’t yet tuned in to 2008 presidential politics.”
“Coverage of rallies, that tend to attract the most committed and politically aware partisans, simply doesn’t give an accurate map of the full landscape of current political opinions in South Carolina,” Huffmon concluded.
For more information on the Winthrop Poll, contact Huffmon at 803-323-4669 or go to www.winthrop.edu/winthroppoll