With terrorism their new top 2016 presidential campaign issue, S.C. Republican voters favor monitoring mosques and creating a database of Muslims, according to a new poll.
And most S.C. Republicans say they think the candidate with the best chance of keeping the United States safe is New York billionaire Donald Trump.
“Trump has has been talking the loudest about this,” said Scott Huffmon, director of the Winthrop Poll, which released its latest survey Thursday. “And he’s been the best at channeling this fear while expressing total confidence that he can fix the problem. People tend to like leaders who talk big, simplify complex issues and express bold solutions.”
As for criticism that Trump lacks specifics behind his promises to destroy ISIS, which has been linked to attacks in France and California in recent weeks, Huffmon said the average S.C. GOP voter cares little for details.
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”They are concerned with ISIS being able to reach into America,” Huffmon added. “If Muslims can be radicalized in our country, they figure, ‘We need to keep an eye on these people.’ And the person best articulating that is Donald Trump.”
The poll found Trump remains the favorite of Palmetto State Republicans in 2016, having topped 13 of the past 14 major polls taken since July.
“Things could turn on a dime,” said Scott Buchanan, a political scientist at The Citadel. “But, for now, Trump seems bullet proof.”
Cruz now in second
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has surged nationally in recent weeks, is in second in the new Winthrop survey – his best showing in a S.C. poll since April. He received 16 percent support to Trump’s 24 percent backing.
Cruz seems to be winning over some Trump backers, who might think the senator is more electable, Winthrop’s Huffmon said.
“People are finally hearing (Cruz’s) message about his anger against the government,” he said. “He’s also been good about articulating his faith.”
Winning over evangelicals has helped Cruz pass retired Maryland neurosurgeon Ben Carson for second place in South Carolina.
Trailing Cruz in the Winthrop Poll were Carson at 14 percent, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida at 11 percent and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 9 percent.
The five leading GOP candidates in South Carolina are pulling away from the remaining nine hopefuls, who received 2 percent or less support from Republican voters in the new poll.
Among those nine is U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of Seneca, the first sitting South Carolina politician to run for president in three decades. Graham also remains near the back of the 14-candidate race for the nomination in other early-primary states, Iowa and New Hampshire.
Some Republican leaders – including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a former White House hopeful himself – have suggested candidates with meager poll numbers should drop out of the race so the remaining GOP candidates can better battle Trump.
“Winnowing the field might allow the top tier (of candidates) to articulate their vision,” Huffmon said. “It’s hard to articulate your vision when have to shout over someone else.”
The Winthrop Poll was taken from Nov. 30 through Monday, the day that Trump proposed a temporary ban on Muslims traveling into the United States in the wake of ISIS-related mass shootings.
S.C. Republican leaders criticized Trump for that proposed ban, including Gov. Nikki Haley, who called his proposal “un-American.”
But Trump’s proposal, which some condemned as unconstitutional, has not hurt him in the Palmetto State as the state’s Feb. 20 primary approaches.
On Wednesday, Fox News released a poll showing Trump leading Carson by 35 percent to 15 percent in the Palmetto State. Cruz and Rubio were tied for third at 14 percent. That poll was taken this week, after Trump’s proposed Muslim travel ban.
Terrorism now top issue
Terrorism and ISIS are the top issues in the election for S.C. GOP voters by nearly a 2-to-1 margin over the economy, the next highest response, according to the Winthrop Poll.
The survey found 67 percent of S.C. Republican voters favor surveillance of mosques, and 48 percent back a database of Muslims in the United States. Forty-two percent of S.C. Republicans oppose the database idea.
Those suggestions, mentioned by Trump, drew even more backing from his supporters – 80 percent of whom want mosques monitored and 72 percent support a database.
The GOP race has changed substantially since Winthrop last surveyed S.C. Republicans in April.
Bush was the leader in the April poll with Cruz and Graham tied for second. Trump did not enter the race until June. He launched his candidacy with controversial comments about Mexican immigrants – saying some were rapists – and has continued with sharp jabs at his opponents.
But promising to use his experience as a real estate mogul to make sweeping changes, Trump has found steady support among voters who feel alienated and want a political newcomer to lead in Washington, D.C.
“Voters are saying, ‘We’re sick of politicians,’ ” The Citadel’s Buchanan said. “They don’t like politicians or trust politicians, and they see Trump as the authentic outsider.”
The Winthrop Poll surveyed 828 likely S.C. Republican voters. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
New 2016 GOP poll
Winthrop Poll surveyed 828 likely S.C. Republican presidential primary voters from Nov. 30 through Monday. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Fiorina, Graham and Huckabee: 2%
Christie, Kasich and Paul: 1%
Gilmore, Pataki and Santorum: 0%
Terrorism tops issues
Winthrop’s survey of 828 likely S.C. Republican presidential primary voters found those voters more focused on terrorism
Most important issue for the 2016 presidential election?
Do you believe the government should or should not conduct surveillance of Muslim mosques?
Should not: 23%
Not Sure/refused: 11%
Do you believe the government should or should not create a database of all Muslims in the United States?
Should not: 42%
Not Sure/refused: 10%