Winthrop Political Poll | This Week in South Carolina

Professor Scott Huffmon talks about the latest Winthrop Poll.


Gavin Jackson: Welcome to This Week in South Carolina. I'm Gavin Jackson. The 2024 South Carolina presidential primary is nine months away, And it's already in full swing with two South Carolinians, among others, Eyeing the White House. Former Governor Nikki Haley has already announced her run. And Senator Tim Scott has launched an exploratory committee. Winthrop political science professor And director of the Winthrop poll, Scott Huffman joins us to break down the latest results, including where Haley, Scott, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, And former President Donald Trump stand with voters. Scott, welcome back. 

Scott Huffman: My pleasure. Thank you.

Gavin Jackson: So Scott, you brought us a new poll. And there's a lot we're going to digest here. But I want to start off with who South Carolina Republican primary voters are excited about some nine months before our primary. Tell us what that points look like who's leading And who's, who's chomping at the bit there? 

Scott Huffman: Absolutely. Well, Donald Trump is doubling up the next person. So Donald Trump is still the first choice of Republican self identified Republicans who are registered to vote. At 41% support. Now, mind you, that is lower than some of the support that he's gotten nationally. But the fact is, he's still doubling up his next rival, which is Ron DeSantis, at 20%. But it's very important to note that Nikki Haley had 18%, that's within the margin of error. So Nikki Haley And Ron DeSantis, in this poll, were in a dead heat at that second place. And so you know, she has not formally been in all that long. DeSantis is not formally in Donald Trump is incredibly well known. The question is, how much are they going to eat into his support? Now nationally, Haley only been getting what 4%. So she's more than quadrupling her support. That's important in South Carolina, because we are the first in the south primary for the Republicans. Iowa Republicans in the caucus don't look like the Republican Party. New Hampshire, Republicans don't look like the Republican Party. South Carolina Republicans, we have every flavor of Republican out there. We look like the kind of Republicans you need to win over. And if you can win And South Carolina, then you can win in the south. And if a Republican sweeps the South. The 11 state south, they need less than 30% of all other Electoral College votes in the general election. So we are the first test of that. Nikki Haley has had growing support, but she's still behind Donald Trump by at least half. 

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, it's interesting that you point all that out there Scott, too, because right, we're the were that big state right before Super Tuesday, when there are a lot of southern states that springboard into Super Tuesday, of course, but when you're talking about before we talk about more of this talk about national polls versus polling like yours, I mean, a lot of times people look at us national polls, but we don't really, it's not really reflective of what we're going to see in those early voting states. So when we look at polls like yours, I'm guessing they're a little bit more attention people or they sit up a little bit more when they look at these numbers, because is state specific. 

Scott Huffman: Right, And we don't elect people to be the nominee for the party in any type of national primary, much less than national caucus, God help us if that were to happen. But you know, the people in the Iowa caucuses matter far more than a national poll. The people who are going to show up in New Hampshire primary matter far more than a national poll, because by the time you get to South Carolina in our tests, And it could be a important firewall for Nikki Haley, And Tim Scott, of course. Then you are at a point where people are seeing whether you have momentum or not, whether you can get the funds whether the backers are going to get behind you. And what happens in these early states, means the national polling is going to change completely. So early state polling is actually a lot more important than national polling at this point. 

Gavin Jackson: And it is still very early as well, too. But I want to point to another poll that came out this week from National Public Affairs, which really similar mirrored your poll pretty closely there with Trump at 43% DeSantis at 21%. Haley at 19%. So again, very close to what we're seeing that jockeying for second place, And then Senator Tim Scott, who is not announcing again for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, did not announce either, but they're obviously eyeing it. Tim Scott's just launched his presidential exploratory committee too, but when you're seeing this consistency, I mean, that's pretty firm to what the fields looking like at this point. So what are we have to do for some of these guys to really break through like Nikki Haley? 

Scott Huffman: Well, let's always remember that in 2015, Jeb Bush was going to be the nominee And he was going to sweep his way to the presidency. At this point in the stage, so we have to keep an eye on what's happening, keep a close monitor on these early state polls, things could change. You know, the big Republican donors, not that long ago had to get together And they were not as much behind Trump as you would think they would be behind a former president. And also DeSantis wasn't winning over as many of them as possible. So when it comes to funding And getting your name out there in these early states, a whole lot could change, because we've got a long road ahead of us. 

Gavin Jackson: And how do you make I guess, how do you evaluate right now And Nikki Haley's campaign, she launched it in mid February, she's released some of her fundraising, which has been interesting to look at with some of the double counting going on there, too. But what does she have to do to I guess, increase her numbers here And also just really register with those Iowa, New Hampshire voters in your opinion? 

Scott Huffman: Well, she's got to pick up a little bit of a vacuum that Trump is leaving DeSantis was trying to fill that vacuum as the Trump culture warrior without all the baggage, but DeSantas has been losing a little bit of ground lately. He's stepping over a few too many lines, doing things that some of the Republican faithful think you're not focusing on the right issues. Now, the interesting thing about nationally, there's a narrative that Nikki Haley is a moderate. And I really think a lot of that comes from the Confederate flag coming down off of the Statehouse under her tenure And her supporting that. But if you look at her term, as governor, she was absolutely not a moderate. She was the queen of the Tea Party in South Carolina, endorsed by Sarah Palin. That's how she got into the governor's mansion. She kept conservative during that she is extremely conservative, but with less baggage than Trump has. And she is leaning more into the culture war issues than for example, Tim Scott is, so she might be ready to take up some of the oxygen that's escaping from the room as people look at Trump And think this might not be the best choice. 

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, that makes me wonder about, you know, when we see DeSantis, And there's a lot of stuff going on right now, too. When it comes to back And forth between him And Trump. It could be a matter of her And or maybe Senator Tim Scott, just kind of waiting around to be the nice guy in this situation? 

Scott Huffman: Well, you know, I don't think Haley wants to come across as necessarily the nice guy on certain issues. She has prided herself on being tough. You know, when, when a reporter And anchor called her past her prime, her first response was hold my beer. She prides herself on being tough, she's not going to come across as the soft, moderate. She may work coming across as somebody who's more reasonable. And this is Tim Scotts space as well. Tim Scott, again, the narrative is oh, he's more moderate. If you look at his voting record in the Senate, he is not his voting record is extremely conservative. So he's got the bonaefedées of being a strong conservative supporter. But he doesn't come across as unhinged, like some candidates may, he comes across as much more moderated in his speech And thought, And so he's going to be able to take up some of that space of the reasonable alternative. The question is, how much traction can he get? And if he can repeat what he's done here in South Carolina, where he was constantly underestimated, And constantly overperformed, then he can get some traction And make some moves as we go along through this election season? 

Gavin Jackson: Yes. Scott that was kind of my question here in terms of how he can do that, because your poll has him, at 7%, in a very distant with fourth place there. So you know, he's always polled very favorably in your polls, as well as you know, others nationwide. So it's interesting to see where he is right now. Because, you know, we're talking about getting name recognition out there to in those early voting states. And that's something that Nikki Haley has a little bit more of, because of her positions. And, you know, obviously, her previous situations as governor And ambassador at the United Nations too, so And also that with that comes a slate of accomplishments that she can point to, you know, whether it's economic development, crisis management or international relations, versus someone like Senator Tim Scott, while their narratives might be the same. It's kind of interesting to see how they're gonna differentiate between each other when it comes when push comes to shove. 

Scott Huffman: Right. And it's a lot easier for a senator to say I have international experience than a former governor. However, this particular former governor was also the ambassador to the United Nations. So you know, essentially appointing her to that post, which was a gift to Henry McMaster from from Trump, pointing her to that post gave her experience in the one area where she would be seen as lacking if she ran for president. So now she gets to check a whole lot of the boxes for I have the toolbox I'm ready to be able to go in And step in on day one, And be president. And that gives her an advantage. A bit over Tim Scott, although, again, a senator would normally have an advantage over Governor if it comes to international relations. And you pointed something out, Tim Scott has always amazingly popular in our poll among anybody who has an opinion, he is popular. So a lot of folks don't have an opinion. But if they have an opinion on Tim Scott, it's usually positive. And as more folks get to know him nationally, they're going to move from having no opinion to if they have an opinion, it's likely to be good, because that's been the trend here in South Carolina. 

Gavin Jackson: And he has money too, I mean, $21 million. Right now, he hasn't even launched a campaign. But we do expect to see one, at least by June from him. Like we said, he has announced his presidential exploratory committee. So again, it's gonna be a matter of spending that money. I mean, he could go up on advertising in the state of Iowa, for from now until the caucuses, And if he wanted to, And we're we've seen advertising play out in South Carolina, so is it really just a matter of spending that money wisely And targeted in a way that he can get people to start registering with who he is? 

Scott Huffman: Yeah, I think you're right, that he needs to spend the money in a way that can build momentum. And one of the things that that momentum will do, will have an impact on the behind the scenes, the under the surface battle, that's gonna go on between him And Haley trying to get endorsements in South Carolina, I don't expect them to go after each other's throats publicly. But the fact is, they will both be battling under a seemingly smooth surface to try And get endorsements from groups within the state. And then, of course, they also have to battle against the Trump supporters who over the past few years, the MAGA groups, many of them have taken over control of a lot of county district parties. And so they're going to have to face that as well. So he has to spend money in order to build momentum, that building the momentum can help him in getting the endorsements in the first in the south primary. And all of those would be key to him advancing.

Gavin Jackson: And that's going to be big for her too. Because while we're talking about money, I want just focus on how much Nikki Haley raised in her first six weeks. And I use the term raise kind of loosely here because they did use a little Richard Eckstrom math here, when they announced her campaign announced early that they raised $11 million in the first quarter when in fact, the committee with committee transfers, she brought in about 8.3 million, the first quarter, which 5.1 million of which was from actual campaign fundraising. So I think she had a little bit more, she still had some pretty good money on hand, too, but really kind of going through it. And of course, it's still very early. So really gonna have to ramp up that fundraising to not only keep up with the attacks, but also to keep traveling to those early voting states. Still early on here, Scott And of course, there's a lot of people still out there. But what do you what do you make of those fundraising events?

Scott Huffman: That was also an unforced error? Somebody wasn't paying close attention. And they thought that they, you know, had big numbers to put out, paying a little closer attention would have meant a we had a decent fundraising error And said you tried to push the story at a phenomenal fundraising. And the story became, we don't know how to do our accounting. So again, that was an unforced error. And that's going to need to be controlled as the primary season moves forward. 

Gavin Jackson: And I think Trump raised about 14 point 5 million the first quarter too, so just kind of showing there how much is going on. And it's still very early And a lot of ground to cover going forward. But we just didn't see Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is, you know, weighing his run, obviously, there's still the legislative session down there in Florida. He's expected to announce after that wraps up there, but he was he had two big showings this week in North Charleston and Spartanburg. I was in Spartanburg And saw the crowds out there had about 1000 people out there. Pretty warm reception crowds were pretty interested too. So it seems like he's already making some pretty good inroads in the state where again, you know, the road to the White House runs right through South Carolina. 

Scott Huffman: Yeah, And he's going to have a base. So the question is, are these people, you know, super pro DeSantis? To the point where they're anti Trump? Or are they you know, somebody who likes And wants to see DeSantis are his crowds at this point, absolutely faithful or strong Republicans who are interested in seeing, but the fact that he's gotten a good turnout is a positive sign for him because as you said, road to the White House runs through South Carolina, he's going to have to come here And make a strong showing. Again, if he cannot perform well in South Carolina, then people are going to question whether or not he can sweep the entire south. And that's important for a Democrat or Republican running for the president. Because if a Democrat can crack the South in the general election, they tend to get the White House.

Gavin Jackson: Yeah. And Scott, when we look at some of the announcements this week surrounding DeSantis, too, with a lot of members of the Congressional delegation Florida, supporting former president Donald Trump. Not too dissimilar from what we saw Trump getting support from our delegation as well. We did see, you know, Ralph Lauren backing Nikki Haley, there's still a Nancy Mace's endorsement out there to think Jeff Duncan as well. So it's interesting to see, you know, some similarities they're trying to pick off And weaken DeSantis. So early, as well as attack ads already up in South Carolina. It seems pretty early for that. But is that a sign that Trump is maybe just trying to get ahead of this? 

Scott Huffman: Well, you know, we long ago entered the phase of the constant campaign, the idea that the 2024 election might actually begin in 2024. That's been done since the 1990's. When we really did enter the era of the constant campaign. As soon as the 2020 election was over the battle for 2024 began. So seeing ads, this early is certainly frustrating for those of us who watch TV. But it's not kind of out of the realm of possibility. You want to weaken your opponent, because you need a fundraising advantage at this point, you've got to get your name out. And one of the best ways to do that is to undermine the fundraising ability of your opponents. So I'm not surprised. It's just one of those things that in our current political system (sighs) became inevitable. 

Gavin Jackson: Well, Scott, we can leave 2024 there And jump right back to your poll, which had come out And you poll out a variety of topics very consistently, just so you can kind of get an idea of air consistent idea about how South Carolinians are feeling about things. And one of the big issues that you consistently poll on is medical marijuana. That's an issue that's been under debate in the state house for some time now several years with Beaufort Republican Senator Tom Davis leading that fight. This year, it's the bill was pretty much dead. We have a couple of weeks left in session, even though it together Senate last year died in the house. So there's still a lot of back And forth there. When it comes to passing such a really conservative bill up at the statehouse, even with support from the Governor, which would be expected but I'm just wondering what you think about things just not really tracking when it comes to public opinion, versus what happens at the Statehouse? I know that's kind of obvious. Sometimes. It's not always hand in hand. But how do you mesh that? How come people don't really see that something's popular?  Why not move forward with it? Even Republicans? Democrats support this? 

Scott Huffman: You've got it. You gotta go back to the issue of Jerry Mann. Right. So we're drawing district lines for the statehouse in the State Senate, And the State House And State Senate get to draw their own district lines. And shockingly, what tends to happen is districts are drawn extremely safe for the party that tends to control that district to the point where a lot of seats, sometimes as much as 70%, or more of the seats go unchallenged in the general election. So that means the only election that matters is the primary. And if you're going to win the primary, if you're a Republican, you've got to run as far to right as possible. You're not going to have an opponent the general election. So if you win that primary, you've won the general, if you're a Democrat, you've got to run further to the left than normal. If you're not going to have an opponent in the general election, you've won that election. So what you have is a more polarized state legislature, that doesn't actually reflect how normal South Carolinians feel. South Carolinians, it's not that they're clamoring for marijuana, they're just not opposed to medical marijuana. A lot of people have heard about or even know, cancer patients are folks that might benefit from this type of thing. And they're simply not opposed to it. However, that's not reflected in our much more polarized state legislature. However, the idea about recreational marijuana there is a split there between Democrats And Republicans that is not nearly as strongly supported as medical marijuana. 

Gavin Jackson: Yeah, it really does fall off there. I think it's like what 76% or so for medicinal marijuana but then drops down to 56% favourability. For recreational again, we're no one's talking about recreational marijuana at least in the State House. The focus is just on medicinal And it's a pretty tight bill to me You came in you don't even smoke cannabis under this bill. It's just you know, oil. Yeah, so very tightly written there too. So a lot to be following on that issue. But also sports betting is kind of something that's we've been seeing getting a lot of attention to other states have been passing bills for online, legalizing of gambling on sports. You have a very, very slim majority there. But 50% of folks saying we favor online betting there's a bill that moved through the house, narrowly moved through the house over to the Senate. Now the governor is not a fan of this. So even if it made it out of the Senate, likelihood of getting the governor to sign it won't go forward. But what does that say to you when we look at the state And folks reaction to this especially when we talk about video poker in the early nine... In the late 90s And early 2000s. The lottery always been so controversial. Sports betting doesn't seem like it has much of a chance. 

Scott Huffman: Right now with a scant majority being okay with it, doesn't seem like it has a groundswell of support we've asked in the past to about possibility casinos in, you know, areas around Myrtle Beach And such an again, is not overwhelming opposition, but there's not a groundswell of support. And so if this gets out of the legislature And gets before the governor, the Governor vetoes it. It may be a bit tougher to override that veto. It may not even get there, again, looking at the fact that while it is right at half supported, And you know, given the folks that have no opinion, that means less than half are opposed to it. That's a tougher sell. 

Gavin Jackson: And we're talking about some other issues in your poll. We just saw the Tennessee legislature And the governor ban public drag shows in the state of Tennessee, that still having a hard time getting implemented in the state. There's also some concerns about a chilling effect on first amendment rights there. But how popular of an idea is that in South Carolina, according to your poll, I mean, is that something people are clamoring for? I mean, I think there's a bill in our state house, it hasn't gone anywhere. There's bills And several other state houses, too. Doesn't seem like something that people are chomping at the bit to, to impose here in South Carolina. 

Scott Huffman: That is that is something that is, you know, being publicly driven as one of these culture war issues that America is going to crumble. If we don't stop this thing. It is not something that is in the forefront of the mind of the average South Carolinian. South Carolinians are saying, oh my gosh, thank goodness, the price of eggs is coming down, you know, they're worried about more day to day things. You know, even the idea of medical marijuana, they're saying, Ah, you know, I don't really care that much. I'm okay with it. When it comes to drag shows. They're just not in support of a band, because it's just not registering with them that much. And you know, there's always amusing thing I like to point out with people. If you Google womanless, beauty pageant And church fundraiser, you will be amazed at how many churches actually have what is in effect, a drag show that they use as a fundraiser. So this is really specifically targeted, not at men dressing as women or women dressing as men. It's really targeted at the LGBTQ community. 

Gavin Jackson: Yeah. And again, asking about public drag shows there too, as a form of entertainment, entertainment. And of course, you don't have to go if you don't want to No one's forcing anyone to do that. But it's also interesting to see that you asked again, about Christian nationalism, kind of going into that theme there, too, you had several questions about that. Those feelings seem to have remained the same in terms of whether people think that, you know, God has chosen the American people to be, you know, his is chosen people, in a sense, wondering, what do you think about that in terms of what that's registering, like maybe on the national level to in terms of how we might hear some that rhetoric play out on the campaign trail? 

Scott Huffman: Well, And again, it is the number of people who are hardcore Christian nationalists. And these are people who think America was truly founded to be a Christian nation should absolutely publicly declare itself to be a Christian nation. And also say you can't truly be American unless you're a Christian. Those folks are a minority, but they are a minority that is passionate, And they turn out. So as we go through the Republican primary season, I think we may hear some Christian nationalist rhetoric. Again, it may be at the dog whistle level, but it's going to be aimed at turning out people who are extremely passionate, the rhetoric will die down during the general election, because that simply doesn't represent a majority of Americans. A majority of South Carolinians still say, yes, there should be a separation between church And state. But the minority who wanted to tear down the wall of separation between church And state, tend to be very passionate, And tend to be the kind of people who turn out in primaries. So we're definitely going to see some of that rhetoric, some of it overt, some of it implicit, or we're gonna see some of that rhetoric through the primary season. 

Gavin Jackson: And Scott, we have about a minute left, I want to ask you about some questions you didn't ask on your poll, And that's about, you know, guns And abortion. Will you be polling on those issues later this year next year? Why not those questions in some other instances? 

Scott Huffman: We kind of alternate a good bit we've asked about abortion on the last poll, we will ask about on future polls. We've asked about gun issues, especially the Charleston loophole. We've asked about that in the past, And we'll ask about it in the future Space is at a premium And, you know, to get an accurate poll, you've got to get a certain number of people And especially in a mixed mode poll like this where some are online And some are called on the phone. It's getting tougher And tougher to get people. The polls have to be shorter, but I can assure you, things like gun control issues And abortion are going to appear on future polls as well. 

Gavin Jackson: Gotcha. Well, thank you so much for letting us know what South Carolinians are thinking. That's Scott Huffmon. He's a Winthrop University political science professor And he's the director of the Winthrop poll. Thanks, Scott. 

Scott Huffman: Thank you. 

Gavin Jackson: To stay up to date with the latest news throughout the week. Check out the "South Carolina Lede". It's a pod cast that hosts on Tuesdays And Saturdays that you can find on or wherever you find pod casts for South Carolina ETV I'm Gavin Jackson. Be well South Carolina.