Americans got a lesson about political polling in 2016 when Donald Trump defied projections and became president. The president is hoping to again buck the pollsters on Tuesday when Democrats are projected to take control of the U.S. House.
As much as polls predicting election outcomes are risky, those offering a glimpse into how people see their leaders and key issues are at least interesting as a gauge of what might happen on voting days.
Enter the latest Winthrop Poll, with results being released this past Thursday ahead of Tuesday’s election. There are few surprises.
Trump’s approval rating registers at 44 percent, according to the poll of South Carolina adults.
But the gap, as expected, is huge between those leaning Republican and those leaning Democratic. Among Republicans, Trump has an 83 percent approval rate, which continues to climb in what is one of the reddest states in the country. The 45th president has a disapproval rating of half of Palmetto State citizens.
Trump’s approval rating among adults in South Carolina has remained in the mid-40s over his two years in office.
According to the Winthrop Poll’s director and political scientist, Scott Huffmon, “Trump’s approval in South Carolina continues to be higher than his overall national approval ratings. Currently, his approval in S.C. is 4 points higher than his national approval rating of 40 percent (according to Gallup). S.C. Republicans continue to offer their full-throated support of the president.”
A key Trump supporter in South Carolina also got some good news from the poll.
Ahead of Tuesday’s voting during which Gov. Henry McMaster faces Democrat Rep. James Smith, the incumbent’s support has reached 51 percent, up from the spring when it was in the mid-40s. His disapproval ratings remain at 29 percent, with 18 percent not sure. Elected as the lieutenant governor in 2014, McMaster took over as governor after Trump tapped S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley to be the United Nations ambassador.
Another pattern held in the recent poll: People tend to disapprove of Congress but no so for their own representatives.
S.C. residents give Congress a disapproval rating of 69 percent. But U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who took a lead role in the Senate in the approval of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, was rewarded for going on the attack to help Trump’s candidate. That vocal support helped win Graham nods from the GOP where three-fourths of respondents who lean GOP and supported Kavanaugh said they approved of Graham. His ratings in the past have been more tepid.
According to Huffmon, “Graham’s new persona as tireless, and occasionally aggressive, cheerleader for the president and his agenda resonates well with the Republican base in South Carolina. Whereas those who identify with the GOP in South Carolina have waxed, and – more frequently in recent times – waned in their support for Graham, his vigorous defense of Kavanaugh and vocal support for Trump has returned him to the good graces of his party.”
Half of Winthrop Poll respondents said they approved of Kavanaugh’s nomination and only slightly fewer say their opinion of him was very or somewhat favorable. Huffmon noted, “When it comes to sexual harassment, Kavanaugh supporters are less likely to agree that most women who report harassment are telling the truth and more likely to agree that men must be extra careful to avoid false accusations.”
Huffmon cautions that the Winthrop Poll data should not be used to make predictions about the governor’s race because poll callers talked to a representative sample of all South Carolina adults who may or may not even be registered, much less “likely voters.”
So be it, we’ll make no more predictions on Tuesday’s outcome, but the poll sure shows that if the midterm elections are a national referendum on Trump, as many contend, the president can wish more state’s viewed him as South Carolinians do.