COLUMBIA, SC — Likely Republican primary voters in South Carolina overwhelmingly say U.S. Sen. Tim Scott – the state’s first African-American U.S. senator – shares their beliefs – and those of African-Americans, according to a new Winthrop Poll.
The relationship between S.C. Republican voters and Scott is singular in S.C. political history.
The state’s GOP voters overwhelmingly are white – more than 95 percent – and Scott is one of the state’s few black Republican political leaders.
The assessment of that relationship by S.C. GOP voters, as told to Winthrop pollsters, is complex.
When polled on Scott’s job performance, 73 percent said they approve. Only 7 percent disapproved.
Scott’s appointment to the Senate is heralded by some Republican leaders as having the potential to broaden the S.C. GOP, drawing black voters to the party.
Forty-nine percent of S.C. GOP primary voters said Scott, a darling of Tea Party-libertarian Republicans, reflects their values and interests “a lot.” Another 27 percent said he reflects their values somewhat.
Asked if Scott reflects the values of S.C. blacks, more than 90 percent of whom vote Democratic, almost four in 10 GOP primary voters – 37 percent – said he does “a lot.” Three in 10 – 29 percent – said he did so “some.”
The poll interviewed 901 likely Republican primary voters from Feb. 16 to 23. Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters were screened out of the poll to get an accurate reflection of what S.C. GOP voters think.
The poll shows Scott’s popularity among GOP primary voters, said Winthrop Poll director Scott Huffmon.
Scott faces his first statewide election in November after being appointed to the U.S. Senate in December 2012 to fill the vacancy left when Jim DeMint resigned.
Scott’s status as the state’s first African-American U.S. senator, the first black Republican in the U.S. Senate since the late 1900s, has raised questions about the impact his race will have, if any, on changing the demographics of the Republican Party if he wins in November.
Republicans hope his success will help draw more blacks to the GOP. Now, S.C. African-American voters overwhelmingly vote Democratic. But many black voters are not comfortable with the Democratic Party’s pro-choice, gay-rights agendas.
Scott faces no GOP opposition.
Two Democrats, both African-Americans, are vying for their party’s nomination to oppose Scott in November: Rick Wade, a former campaign adviser to President Barack Obama and cabinet director under Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges, and Richland County Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson.
Republican politicos say Scott’s win in November would encourage conservative blacks to switch parties, facilitating a re-alignment of voters similar to what happened when Strom Thurmond, then a Democratic U.S. senator, switched to the GOP in 1964.
But political scientists hesitate to predict that leap, pointing out the allegiance black voters have had to the Democratic Party, one deeply rooted in that party’s civil-rights history.
Scott has not speculated on whether his status as a U.S. senator and his potential to hold that seat for years to come could alter the demographic trajectory of the S.C. GOP.
“What I strive to do every single day is simple – to represent the people of South Carolina the best way I know how,” Scott said in response to the Winthrop Poll.
“I take my responsibility as a public servant very seriously, and I will continue working to make sure folks from Oconee to Beaufort, Aiken to Myrtle Beach and everywhere in between have the opportunity to realize the American Dream.”
Scott safe among Republicans
The polls show that Scott is popular among Republicans, who strongly think he represents their values.
Forty-nine percent of S.C. GOP primary voters said Scott reflects their values and interests “a lot,” while 27 percent said he reflects them some. A combined 6 percent said he reflects their views not much or not at all.
On whether Scott reflects the values of blacks, 37 percent of GOP primary voters said he does a lot, 29 percent said only some, 1 percent said “not at all,” and 28 percent said they were not sure.
The poll did not include a survey of likely Democratic voters, and only 3.8 percent of poll respondents were minorities. That percentage reflects 2010 GOP primary voters, the last non-presidential primary year, and also resembles the racial breakdown of 2012 presidential preference primary voters.
The poll results show that “Republican voters clearly think that (Scott is) a good representative of them,” said Winthrop’s Huffmon. “A very solid majority (of those GOP voters also) say that he’s clearly representing (African-American) ideological interests.”
“Whether or not Democrats feel the same way, is an entirely different question,” Huffmon added.
Race as an issue
Nearly half of poll respondents said that Scott’s appointment to the U.S. Senate has made little difference in race relations in the state, while one in four said they have grown better.
Scott, a former 1st District congressman, has kept a low profile in his first year in the Senate, Huffmon noted, making legislative proposals more recently.
Scott’s first two Senate bills, introduced in January, focus on workforce development and expanding school choice – a platform that he has been sharing with Republican and black leaders around the state.
About the same time that Scott went public with his “Opportunity Agenda,” some African-American leaders attacked Scott for his conservative positions.
A North Carolina NAACP leader, speaking at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, said of Scott: “A ventriloquist can always find a good dummy,” saying Scott was a mouthpiece of the “extreme right wing” and Tea Party.
Scott has said his critics do not know him or his history, adding that, perhaps, they fear that he “threatens their position in the world of being the only defenders of those who are the most vulnerable.”
Other African-American leaders, including Wade, the former Obama adviser and possible opponent to Scott in November, have said the Senate election is about opposing ideologies on how to move the state and country forward – not about race.
Kyle Kondik, with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said Scott likely will win in heavily Republican South Carolina but not due to a groundswell of black support.
“Black voters prefer Democrats to Republicans in overwhelming numbers,” Kondik said. “Black voters don’t feel like Republicans understand their own history in the country.”
The S.C. GOP and Tim Scott
The Winthrop Poll interviewed 901 likely Republican primary voters in February. Results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
Do you approve or disapprove of the way Tim Scott is handling his job as a United States senator for South Carolina?
Approve – 72.8%
Disapprove – 6.5%
Don’t know – 19.3%
Refused – 1.4%
How much would you say Sen. Tim Scott shares the values and interests of people like you?
A lot – 48.8%
Some – 27.2%
Not too much – 3.7%
Not at all – 2.3%
Not sure/ don’t know – 16.8%
Refused – 1.1%
How much would you say Sen. Tim Scott shares the values and interests of black people in this state?
A lot – 37.1%
Some – 28.5%
Not too much – 3.6%
Not at all – 1%
Not sure/don’t know – 27.8%
Refused – 2%
Has Tim Scott’s appointment as a U.S. senator led to better race relations in South Carolina, worse race relations or hasn’t it made a difference?
Better – 23.6%
Worse – 1.8%
Not made a difference – 45.7%
Not sure/don’t know – 27.8%
Refused – 1.1%
Do you feel that generations of slavery and discrimination do or do not make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class?
Strongly do make it difficult – 7%
Somewhat do make it difficult – 11.8%
Somewhat do not make it difficult – 12.9%
Strongly do not make it difficult – 61.6%
Not sure/don’t know – 4.9%
Refused – 1.7%
Other Winthrop Poll findings
Of likely S.C. Republican Primary voters
Voter ID laws
What likely S.C. primary voters said when asked their opinion about the state’s new requirement to show photo identification before voting at the polls:
94.3% – The voter ID law is mainly used to prevent voter fraud
3.8% – Mainly used to make it harder for some groups to vote
1.7% – Don’t know, not sure
What likely S.C. primary voters said when asked about their views of illegal immigrants currently living in the United States:
45% – Illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the United States and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship.
8.1% – Illegal immigrants should be allowed to remain in the United States but not be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship
32.3% – Illegal immigrants should be required to leave the U.S.
11.6% – Don’t know enough to say
Note: Of respondents who said they support Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, 53 percent said illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship, 8 percent said they should be allowed to stay but not apply for citizenship, and 25 percent said they should be required to leave.
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