#SC2018: Palmetto Gubernatorial Polling

GOP race coming into focus … Democratic race remains a mystery …

There’s a new public poll out in the South Carolina governor’s race, and while its findings are consistent with internal polling we have been provided for the “Republican” primary – the results it yielded on the Democratic side of the ledger have some raising questions as to its reliability.

First, some background …

In early April, we reported on the first round of polling from Michigan-based nonprofit Target-Insyght.  According to this group, embattled incumbent governor Henry McMaster was polling at 46 percent – compared to 22 percent for Lowcountry labor attorney Catherine Templeton.  Only one percent said they were with Upstate businessman John Warren – although the Marine just launched a massive statewide advertising blitz aimed at introducing himself to the electorate.

That was then …

Has Warren’s blitz worked?  Yes … 

The latest Target-Insyght results – provided on Saturday to reporter Jamie Lovegrove of The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier – showed McMaster at 37 percent (-9 percent from the last poll), Templeton at 25 percent (+3 percent) and Warren at 20 percent (+19 percent).

That’s a huge move for Warren …

Lieutenant governor Kevin Bryant stood at five percent (-1 percent), while former lieutenant governor Yancey McGill clocked in at three percent (-1 percent).  Eleven percent of respondents were undecided.

Target-Insyght surveyed 400 likely GOP primary voters (a small sample size) between May 29-31.   It claims a margin of error of plus or minus five percent for its poll.

We’ll get back to its GOP primary numbers in a moment …

The firm also surveyed Democratic primary voters, although it did not release a breakdown of the battle between Afghan War veteran and longtime state lawmaker James Smith, Charleston, S.C. businessman Phil Noble and Florence, S.C. attorney Marguerite Willis.

Two months ago, the group had Smith and Noble in a tie at 27 percent with Willis nipping at their heels at 21 percent.

Where is the race now?  Good question …

The only clue provided by the group, according to Lovegrove, is that “nearly 50 percent of Democratic voters (were) still undecided or unaware of who the candidates are” as of late May.

Hold up … when Target-Insyght polled the Democratic race two months ago, undecided voters stood at 24 percent.

Are we to believe that number has more than doubled?

“Undecideds don’t double in seven weeks,” Charleston, S.C.-based Democratic strategic Tyler Jones tweeted.  “That’s just absurd,”

We agree … and something was obviously “up” with the firm’s results on the Democratic side or else it would have released them, right?


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Back to the GOP calculations, though.

While Target-Insyght’s sample for its latest poll was indeed small, the results it produced are consistent with what we are hearing from “Republican’ consultants who are polling the race.  Two days ago, one GOP strategist unaffiliated with any of the gubernatorial campaigns told us his most recent data showed McMaster at 39 percent, Templeton at 21 percent and Warren at 16 percent.  Meanwhile on Saturday, another GOP pollster who is unaffiliated with any of the campaigns told us McMaster was at 32 percent, Templeton at 18 percent and Warren at 17 percent.

Obviously sample size matters, but in this particular race (scratch that, all races) so does sample location – as well as sample composition.

All signs point to this year’s primary seeing lower-than-usual turnout, meaning surveys need to account for the sort of “Republican” voter who summons the motivation to go to the polls in an environment steeped in ennui.  Some of the GOP campaigns are polling the landscape with the expectation that half a million “Republican” voters will show up at the polls next Tuesday.  Are they right?  We’ll see … but we think the turnout will be considerably lower than that.

(For those of you keeping score at home, 422,251 GOP voters cast ballots during the last contested gubernatorial primary in 2010).

“Warren’s people are polling a presumption of 500,000 voters – record turnout,” one strategist told us. “McMaster’s people are polling lower turnout.”

Pollsters do need to account for higher turnout in the socially conservative Upstate, though, where a competitive congressional primary election involving a dozen different candidates is being held.  Surveys that don’t account for an Upstate bias in this race will produce inaccurate results.

Still, though, the lay of the land on the “Republican” seems relatively clear.  The GOP gubernatorial race boils down to two battles: The first (which is heating up) is on June 12 between Templeton and Warren for second place – a.k.a. the right to go head-to-head against the incumbent.

The second will be the runoff election on June 26 between McMaster and the second-place finisher.

In South Carolina primaries featuring three or more candidates, if no one receives a majority of the votes on the first ballot the top two finishers battle it out two weeks later – mano-a-mano.

Despite running a disastrous campaign, McMaster still seems to be a lock for one of those spots.  Of course that’s small consolation given he was gifted this office last January by U.S. president Donald Trump and was predicted to steamroll his way to the nomination.  The fact he is limping into a runoff against one of two credible, well-funded challengers does not bode well for him.  At all …



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