S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster has a lead in the GOP primary for governor, but it's not strong enough to avoid a runoff.
And a third of the Republicans and more than half of the Democrats likely to vote in June's primaries have no idea who will get their vote.
Those results are part of a new poll of 800 S.C. registered voters provided exclusively to The State.
Commissioned by the Save the Children Action Network, the poll was conducted March 10-17 with live callers and asked participants their opinions on the importance of early education and the upcoming political primaries.
In the GOP race for governor, 41 percent of 397 likely GOP primary voters picked McMaster as their top candidate, according to the poll.
Mount Pleasant attorney Catherine Templeton finished second with 10 percent support, followed by Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant of Anderson at 5 percent, former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill of Williamsburg at 3 percent and Greenville businessman John Warren at 2 percent.
Of 296 likely Democratic primary voters, 18 percent said they would pick state Rep. James Smith of Columbia in the primary. Trailing Smith is Florence attorney Marguerite Willis at 11 percent and Charleston businessman Phil Noble at 7 percent.
Many voters are undecided, according to the poll.
More than a third of GOP voters — or 35 percent — still are weighing their options. And an overwhelming 57 percent of Democrats surveyed said they did not know who they would vote for in June's primary.
S.C. voters say education a top priority
The Save the Children Action Network survey shows education is a top priority for S.C. voters, Republican and Democrat alike.
The poll was a collaboration between TargetPoint Consulting, a GOP firm, and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic firm, the Network's spokesman Brendan Daly said.
The survey found that, among S.C. voters:
▪ 66 percent — including 50 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats — said public education should start with preschool and be offered to all 4-year-olds
▪ 79 percent said improving the state's education system — from preschool to college — should be a high priority for the candidates
▪ 97 percent said the early ages — from birth to five years — are important to children's successful learning and development
S.C. candidates "would be wise to include early childhood education in their general election agenda and platform," said Michael Meyers, president of TargetPoint Consulting. "Regardless of who emerges from the primaries – South Carolina voters have education reform and, particularly, our youngest learners on their mind. Investing in high-quality early childhood education is a strong issue for voters."
SCAN's poll is the first survey of the governor's race in several weeks.
A December poll had McMaster with a runoff-proof 51 percent. A poll conducted from late November to late December for a conservative group that wants to change the U.S. Constitution showed McMaster in the lead with 40 percent, but found Democrat Noble — at 25 percent support — ahead of Smith — at 20.4 percent.