The consensus of six political science professors from around the state is that Republican Gov. Nikki Haley will win the Nov. 4 rematch election against Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen.
The professors announced their verdict Thursday during a forum at the University of South Carolina.
The 2014 rematch election is notably different than 2010 since neither are vying for the open spot. Haley is defending herself from Sheheen as he attempts to use her record in office against her in an attempt to dethrone the governor. Polls have shown Haley has wide support thanks to the economy.
The Pee Dee was represented by Francis Marion University’s Alissa Warters, who said voters will be looking at how things are now in their lives and not necessarily scandals at the Department of Revenue or Department of Social Services when it comes to casting their ballot.
“If we’re looking at defining in terms of what the voters are looking at, you look at the most recent (Clemson University) Palmetto Poll: it’s jobs, the economy and health insurance,” Warters said. “But I think you always ask the bellwether question and that’s, ‘Are you better off now more than you were four years ago?’ And Nikki Haley has to answer that and it’s going to come down to the economy and jobs, in all likelihood.”
The June 4 poll found Haley received support from 73 percent of those polled, compared to 6 percent for Sheheen and 2 percent for independent candidate Tom Ervin.
David Woodard of Clemson University, who taught Sheheen, put Haley with 55 percent of the vote to 45 percent for Sheheen and called the Haley administration a “caretaker” government that looks to maintain.
“When Mark Sanford took office, we were the 42nd state in per capita income. Eleven years later, we’re still 42nd state, haven’t really changed very much,” Woodard said. “I think Nikki Haley is sort of a Libertarian government, doesn’t believe the government can do very much. I don’t think she’ll do very much with it. I don’t think we’ll have a defining agenda. I don’t think we’ll go much any place. I think we’ll be a caretaker government.”
Winthrop University professor Scott Hoffman, who oversees the closely followed Winthrop University Poll, said a strategy of chipping away at other issues is one that might work for Sheheen, since attempting to refute the “jobs governor” title Haley has assigned herself would be a difficult case to make given the low unemployment rate.
“When the hacking scandal first happened, we polled and a lot of people were not fully aware of it. However, once we described it to them and we asked who was to blame, whether it was brilliant hackers or the state was lax, 74 percent were willing to put the blame on the state,” Hoffmon said. “The problem is the state incompetence and distrust in government has not been firmly hung around Nikki Haley’s neck so much as maybe the Department of Revenue, so they’re not sure why she should be to blamed. But if it becomes part of a greater theme of trust, then that could be chipping away at the idea of that there won’t be one single nuclear missile ad, just a chipping away.”
Despite a recent Sheheen ad focusing on the hacking scandal, Hoffmon believes Sheheen has been base-building in the background. A reason being is that if Sheheen mirrors the turnout President Barack Obama received in 2012, he would get 200,000 more votes. This is a popular strategy for the state Democratic Party in getting out the vote, but one that faces the inherent headwinds of voter turnout —especially in a non-presidential year election.
As for what Sheheen has done to improve for the 2014 race since 2010, Todd Shaw of USC said voter expectations are going to shift.“I do think the option of sort of demobilization, of not voting, as a possibility and that’s for either party, but particularly for the Democrats,” Shaw said. “What we have been seeing in the recent trends, we have been seeing these turnouts among African-Americans increasing, but again this is soon going to be a post-Obama era, so the expectations of a candidate may be shifted in some regards.”
Scott Buchanan of The Citadel predicted Haley would receive 54 to 55 percent of the vote in November and said the difficulty for Democrats is the need for a stronger base, something that he said would grow over the next decade due to transplants.
“I’m talking years down the road, the one potential area for Democrats, if they can make inroads into new residents in the state,” Buchanan said. “Look at the coastal areas. Lots of people moving here from New York, Michigan, Ohio on those social issues, the Democrats could possibly have some hope, I don’t think it’s ‘14, ‘16, or ’18. I think it’s much more long-term, but I think it’s a possibility. As far as building up the rural base the Democrats have, it’s not there because people are fleeing those rural areas.”
The conversation briefly turned to Ervin, who despite a hefty $2 million war chest for advertising, will have to overcome the hurtle of name recognition in order for voters to write him in on the Nov. 4 ballot. Woodard said 5 to 6 percent will be needed to make a difference in the Haley/Sheheen race. Hoffomon said that margin makes it a lot closer.
“Write-in candidates in 2010 got two-tenths of the vote,” Hoffomon said later adding, “I think Ervin with the money is making it very interesting.”