INSIGHTS FROM EARLY-VOTING SOUTH CAROLINA
It’s no secret conservative voters have felt disenfranchised in recent election cycles – especially in dark red states like South Carolina. Previous surveys conducted for Market Research Foundation (MRF) in the Palmetto State have shown the strain this disenfranchisement has had on party loyalty – while national polling has highlighted the need to appeal to voters on ideological as opposed to partisan grounds.
But is something more fundamental undercutting these established perceptions?
As the 2016 cycle ramps up, there is a major push underway across the country to identify disenfranchised voters, assess their motivations (or lack thereof) and determine which candidates might be able to get them to the polls (using what combination of messages). Numerous presidential campaigns are vying for these voters all over the country – nowhere more fiercely than in early-voting South Carolina, which has successfully predicted the eventual Republican nominee in all but one of the last seven contested GOP primary elections.
According to a new Palmetto State survey conducted for MRF by Norman Analytics and Research, disenfranchised conservative “leaners” are actively eschewing the pervasive national political correctness and gravitating toward unvarnished candidates who are using non-traditional, “politically incorrect’ conservative messaging.
The survey focused on two niche audiences. The first audience included voters who were modeled to be Republicans yet didn’t vote in either the 2008 or 2012 presidential primary race. These GOP non-voters were filtered according to their general election history – with pollsters taking the top half of those deemed most likely to vote in 2016 and including them in the survey’s “high propensity” universe.
Obviously this universe is solid gold real estate in the upcoming “First in the South” presidential primary election – scheduled for February 20.
The second audience consisted of voters who cast ballots in either the 2008 or 2012 GOP presidential primary (but not both). This group of past primary voters wasn’t modeled by party affiliation – but was filtered by general election history and reduced to a group deemed less likely to vote in 2016.
Not surprisingly, campaigns best able to target the first universe – while identifying common themes running across both universes – stand the best chance of not only winning this important primary bellwether, but also of turning out similarly modeled voters in crucial swing states in the 2016 general election.
Who is currently doing both of those jobs better than any other GOP candidate? Donald Trump.
Trump is backed by 34 percent of likely Palmetto State GOP primary voters in these two groups – positioning him well ahead of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (13 percent), retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (12 percent), former Florida governor Jeb Bush (10 percent) and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (6 percent). Including unlikely voters among these demographics, Trump is backed by 20 percent – putting him ahead of Carson (13 percent), Bush and Rubio (9 percent each) and Cruz (7 percent).
“Among both segments identified for this research, Trump is the clear GOP presidential primary frontrunner,” researcher Erin Norman said. “His support intensifies when the audience is narrowed to likely primary voters and those who say they intensely support their chosen candidate.”
Driving Trump’s support is a strongly held belief that he is willing to speak truths avoided by other politicians. In fact this perception of Trump cuts across the support of other top GOP candidates – with 62 percent of Marco Rubio supporters and 55 percent of Ben Carson supporters saying they believe Trump is “willing to speak the truth other politicians avoid.” Only a majority of Jeb Bush supporters feel differently – with 60 percent of them describing Trump as a “loose cannon and not a serious contender.”
Among all respondents, sixty percent of men – and 72 percent of white men with no college degree – embraced Trump as “willing to speak the truth” compared to just 36 percent and 21 percent, respectively, who described him as a “loose cannon.”
Is this perception likely to move voters to the polls, though? In a word, “yes.”
Telling the truth was the top turnout driver of this universe of South Carolina voters, garnering 73 percent of all mentions and 38 percent of top mentions when voters were asked what was “most likely” to make them “go out on Election Day and support a candidate.” Next up was foreign affairs (58 percent and 19 percent, respectively) and immigration (47 percent and 10 percent, respectively).
“Having candidates who are willing to speaking in a direct, forthright manner is the best way to drive turnout at the polls,” Norman concluded. “Sharing views with candidates on foreign policy is also important – and sharing views on immigration is especially important to Trump supporters.”
But voters’ affinity for a candidate who will shoot straight to them cuts across campaign lines. Big majorities of Rubio supporters (79 percent) and Carson supporters (78 percent) in South Carolina also mentioned truth-telling most frequently when they were asked what would get them to the polls – with 39 percent of Carson backers and 29 percent of Rubio backers listing it as their top mention.
That’s worth watching over the next few weeks as the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary could conceivably further winnow the presidential field heading into South Carolina. It’s also worth watching as campaigns look to the general election and targeting both of these universes in swing states.
Norman Analytics and Research surveyed 400 registered voters in South Carolina via telephone using live operators from December 4-7. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.