Winthrop poll: SC Gov. Haley rising, Sen. Graham falling

April 17, 2013 

Opinions of a pair of major S.C. candidates who will be on the 2014 ballot are going in different directions, according to a new poll released Wednesday.

Gov. Nikki Haley’s job approval slowly is rising among voters – especially those in her Republican Party. Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has seen his support within the GOP falter over the past two months, according to a Winthrop University poll released Wednesday.

Haley’s approval rating among South Carolinians rose to 43.5 percent, up a percentage point from two months ago. The first-term Republican from Lexington scores 45 percent approval among registered voters – also up a percentage point and the fourth straight gain in the past year of Winthrop polls.

However, 39 percent of the registered voters surveyed said they did not approve of the governor’s performance in office.

Haley’s popularity among Republicans and GOP-leaning voters has risen 2 percentage points to 69 percent since February – a high in two years of Winthrop polls.

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Camden Democrat who lost the governor’s race to Haley in 2010, announced he would run again in 2014 while Winthrop’s latest poll of 1,069 adults in South Carolinia was being taken, from April 6 through Sunday.

Reactions to Haley’s numbers were mixed.

“She has pretty good approval ratings among the Republican base,” said Dave Woodard, a S.C. GOP consultant and Clemson University political scientist.

But Lachlan McIntosh, a longtime S.C. Democratic consultant, said Haley’s approval rating is bad news. While she has the support of her GOP base, Haley will need others to win in 2014, he said. “She didn’t come into office with a large coalition,” he said. “These are bad numbers.”

The poll found Graham, a Republican from Seneca who has been targeted by fiscal and social conservatives, has seen his job approval among Republicans tumble to 58 percent from almost 72 percent in February.

Graham’s job approval among all registered voters surveyed dropped 4 percentage points to 44 percent in the past two months.

Two challengers – a Democrat and a Republican, not considered serious threats by political observers at this point – have announced their plans to run for Graham’s seat.

Chip Felkel of Greenville, a longtime S.C. GOP political consultant, said Graham’s higher approval rating among Republicans earlier this year likely resulted from his aggressive questioning of the Obama administration following the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Felkel added Graham’s participation in “politically precarious” groups formed to reach compromises on tough issues – including gun control and immigration – may be the reason for his recent drop. “The immigration proposal is ... complicated and, as people get a better feel for what is in that bill, you’ll see Graham’s numbers improve,” Felkel predicted.

Even after falling to 57 percent among his Republicans, Graham is in a “good spot,” Felkel said, especially considering the public’s much lower opinion of Congress overall.

The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3 percent.

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