Immigrants are taking U.S. jobs and whites are being discriminated against, most S.C. Republicans say, according to a new poll. And those sentiments are even stronger among S.C. GOP supporters of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump.
The results of new Winthrop Poll questions, asked exclusively for The State newspaper, speak to anxieties held by the S.C. Republicans, overwhelmingly white, as they get ready to vote in the state’s Feb. 20 GOP presidential primary.
According to the poll:
▪ 1 in 3 Trump supporters say whites face a “great deal” of discrimination. Just 1 in 5 S.C. GOP voters agree.
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▪ 68 percent of Trump’s S.C. supporters, compared to about half of S.C. GOP voters, think whites face more or the same amount of discrimination as blacks.
▪ 73 percent of Trump supporters – and 62 percent of all S.C. Republicans – say immigrants take jobs away from U.S. citizens.
S.C. GOP voters and Trump backers also express anxiety about political correctness.
Seventy-nine percent of Trump’s S.C. supporters think people in the United States are afraid to say what they think because someone might be offended. Seventy-five percent of S.C. Republicans agree.
The poll results show S.C. GOP voters “feel their voice has been ignored,” said Winthrop Poll director Scott Huffmon.
“Someone like Trump comes along voicing their concerns, and that kind of taps into their fears, their worries. ‘Here’s a guy who says what I want to say and what people need to hear.’ ”
Trump at the top
Trump’s aggressive, unapologetic criticism of immigrants and Muslims has drawn ire from Republican and Democratic critics alike. As a result, some political observers say the billionaire real estate mogul’s days at the top of the GOP’s 14-candidate presidential race are numbered.
Support for Trump will drop before the February S.C. primary, predicts Clemson political scientist Dave Woodard, a GOP activist. The “real” candidates – those who have held public office – already have started to emerge, he said.
But Trump’s message resonates deeply with GOP voters nationally and in South Carolina, polls show.
In the Winthrop Poll released Thursday, which surveyed 828 likely GOP primary voters, Trump leads the GOP race at 24 percent support.
National polls have shown Trump appeals to working-class whites who feel left out of the political process, and the Winthrop survey reflects that trend.
For example, Trump was the top choice of less-educated S.C. GOP voters.
Twenty-six percent of poll participants with less than a four-year college degree backed Trump, followed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, at 15 percent and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 14 percent.
“Working-class whites do feel like they’ve lost ... the sense that they matter politically,” Huffmon said.
Forty-six percent of S.C. GOP voters in the Winthrop Poll said Christians – another powerful group of GOP voters – face a great deal of discrimination.
“Christians are overwhelmingly the dominant group (in South Carolina), and yet they feel as if their ideas are under attack, when before – 30 years ago – their ideas were unassailable,” Huffmon said.
Looking for the anti-establishment
Trump also is drawing on a continuation of the tea party’s anger at government, said College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts.
Republicans are “not happy with some of the decisions to compromise with (Democratic President Barack) Obama,” Knotts said, adding that some GOP voters feel their “party has failed them.”
But not Trump. He is “the ultimate anti-establishment candidate,” Knotts said.
However, Trump is not the only candidate carrying the “anti-establishment” mantle.
Attending a Cruz campaign event Monday, for example, Greenville resident Jennifer Earle said she is backing the tea party darling because she thinks he will do what he says he is going to do.
“I’ve seen him stand up to the establishment Republicans,” the self-described tea partier said of Cruz’s Senate filibusters. “I just believe he is what he says he is.”
But, Earle added, she would vote for Trump “if it came down to it” because she likes how he is shaking up the GOP.
The ‘silent majority’ candidate?
Trump’s strategy – tapping into Republicans’ anger and anxieties – is reminiscent of campaigns of the past, Charleston’s Knotts said.
George Wallace – the segregationist Alabama governor who ran for president in the ’60s and ’70s, opposing the Democratic Party’s civil rights policies – was “somebody who stood up to the establishment in a lot of ways and allegedly spoke to the white silent majority,” Knotts said.
Like Wallace, Trump is “a demagogue who is willing to play into people’s fears – whether it’s about discrimination, whether it’s about jobs, whether it’s about all these things,” said the College of Charleston political scientist.
Time will tell whether Trump’s controversial statements will lead to his downfall. But, thus far, slamming prisoners of war and a Fox News Channel debate moderator, calling immigrants rapists and accusing Muslims of anti-American sentiments have not knocked Trump from his front-runner perch.
Last week, Trump called for banning all Muslims from entering the United States in the wake of the Islamic State-inspired mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.
The Winthrop Poll came out of the field on Monday, the day Trump called for that ban. However, the poll did show high support among S.C. Republicans for starting a government database to track Muslims, an idea Trump has discussed.
A Fox News poll suggests Trump’s travel ban proposal might not have hurt him.
That poll, which finished polling Tuesday, showed Trump with 35 percent backing in South Carolina, a 20 percentage point lead over Carson, his nearest challenger.
But Charleston’s Knotts said Trump’s proposed Muslim travel ban is different from his previous controversial statements, noting it prompted a different reaction.
“Everyone from (Republican U.S. House Speaker) Paul Ryan to (Republican S.C. Gov.) Nikki Haley is saying this is unacceptable,” Knotts said.
The Winthrop Poll surveyed 828 likely S.C. GOP primary voters from Nov. 30 through Monday. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. The margin of error for Trump supporters is plus or minus 7 percentage points. What participants were asked:
Q. Do you believe that immigrants do or do not take jobs away from U.S. citizens?
GOP likely voters
62 percent – Immigrants do take jobs away
33 percent – Do not
73 percent – Immigrants do take jobs away
23 percent – Do not
Q. Do you believe that most people in America are or are not afraid to say what they think for fear that someone might say that they are offended?
GOP likely voters
75 percent – Are afraid
21 percent – Are not afraid
79 percent – Are afraid
18 percent – Are not afraid
Q. Would you say that you think whites in America today experience little or no discrimination, some discrimination, or a great deal of discrimination?
GOP likely voters
23 percent – Little or no discrimination
54 percent – Some discrimination
20 percent – Great deal of discrimination
14 percent – Little or no discrimination
52 percent – Some discrimination
33 percent – Great deal of discrimination
Q. Would you say that whites in America face less discrimination, about the same amount of discrimination, or more discrimination as blacks in America?
GOP likely voters
41 percent – Less discrimination
36 percent – About the same discrimination
17 percent – More discrimination
28 percent – Less discrimination
42 percent – About the same discrimination
26 percent – More discrimination
NOTE: The rest of those surveyed either declined to answer or were not sure.