Nearly half of South Carolinians approve of Gov. Nikki Haley’s job performance.
Of 877 South Carolinians surveyed earlier this month, 49.8 percent approve of the job being done by the first-term Republican governor from Lexington, who is seeking re-election in November, according to a Winthrop Poll released Wednesday. Among registered voters polled, 49.3 percent approve of the job that Haley is doing.
“Her rising approval ratings are mainly because people are becoming more familiar and more comfortable with her,” said political scientist Scott Huffmon, Winthrop Poll director. Past polls have showed uncertainty about Haley among the state’s residents, he said.
Of all those surveyed, 35 percent disapprove of Haley’s job performance, the lowest her disapproval rating has been in the poll of the general population. Among registered voters, 39.6 percent disapprove of her job performance. The poll’s margin of error for registered voters was plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
Haley’s approval rating in the April poll is the highest it has been in any Winthrop Poll that has surveyed the general population since the former state representative took office in 2011.
“None of the potential scandals that have been flung her way have stuck,” Huffmon said, citing ethics allegations, the Department of Revenue computer hacking and a tuberculosis outbreak in Greenwood.
But, Huffmon added, Democrat Vincent Sheheen “is going to do his best to remind voters of those” before their November rematch.
S.C. voters have not always been as fond of Haley, who defeated state Sen. Sheheen of Camden four years ago by a narrow 4.5 percentage points.
In December 2011, only a slight majority of Republican voters, 52.5 percent, approved of her job performance. Among all voters surveyed at the time — Republicans, Democrats and independents — only 34.6 percent approved of the governor’s job performance.
“Polls bounce around, and you see different things from different polls,” said Rob Godfrey, Haley’s campaign spokesman.
“Governor Haley tunes that out, and focuses on delivering results for all South Carolinians. She’s done that on the economy, and she’s doing it on education.”
Education is a top issue that faces South Carolina, according to those surveyed by latest Winthrop Poll, narrowly displacing jobs — 18.5 percent to 17.5 percent — as the top issue. That’s a change from recent polls, where jobs ranked as the No. 1 issue as the state tried to escape the lingering effects of the Great Recession.
Haley initially focused on jobs after taking office, but, earlier this year, she shifted her focus to education, traditionally a key issue for Democrats.
Democrats are not ready to concede the issue. Sheheen’s campaign manager Andrew Whalen cited differences in positions between the gubernatorial candidates on education.
“Vincent Sheheen has led the fight to expand 4-year-old kindergarten, while Nikki Haley has vetoed millions of dollars of education spending, including vetoing teacher pay raises,” Whalen said.
Haley has vetoed $110 million in education spending since 2011, the majority — $95 million — in her first year in office. This year, however, Haley is pushing for $175 million in new education spending.
Education always has been a top issue in South Carolina. And, as residents begin to feel more confident about the economy, education has risen as an important issue again, Winthrop’s Huffmon said.
But the jobs issue — running neck-and-neck with education, well within the poll’s 3.3 percentage-point margin of error for all surveyed — remains important.
“The jobs issue, particularly during an election year, is really one that dominates,” said Robert Oldendick, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina.
Said Haley spokesman Godfrey, “Governor Haley’s focus remains on truly important numbers that we all can celebrate: more South Carolinians working than ever before, more than 45,000 jobs announced in 45 of out 46 counties, and record-low unemployment.”
In other findings, according to the Winthrop Poll:
• U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s approval rating has increased 3.1 percentage points to 42.8 percent in April from 39.7 percent in October.
However, nearly 38.9 percent of those surveyed disapproved of the Seneca senator, who is running in the June GOP primary against six challengers. Graham, who is seeking a third term, also will face Democratic opposition in the fall.
• U.S. Sen. Tim Scott also saw his approval increase over the same period, with 43.1 percent of all respondents approving of his job performance, up from 38.9 percent in October.
Only 17.6 percent of all those surveyed disapprove of Scott, appointed to the Senate by Haley in 2012 after Jim DeMint resigned.
Scott, a North Charleston Republican, is running his first statewide campaign.
He faces one Republican challenger in the June GOP primary and four more challengers in the fall.
Other Winthrop Poll findings