A new poll of registered South Carolina voters shows that, among other things, the birther movement is alive and well in the Palmetto State.
Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (henceforth referred to as RRLs), who were the focus of the Winthrop University study, 75 percent said the term "socialist" describes President Barack Obama well or very well. Thirty percent of the same group said Obama is a Muslim; 36 percent said he was definitely or probably born in another country.
Scott Huffmon, the political science professor who organized the study, says he was not interested in finding out whether voters knew the definition of socialism or could back up their claims about Obama's origins. Those claims, he says, are part of "the kicked puppy syndrome" — that is, if someone asked you whether your enemy had kicked a puppy, you might be inclined to say he had.
"They make up a part of the general disappointment of conservatives in Obama," Huffmon says. "These folks are using any means that they can to express disapproval of the president."
The poll, which was conducted from Sept. 11-18 and had a sample size of 1,552 registered voters, showed a slight decrease in the percentage of S.C. RRLs who said the president was definitely or probably born in another country. An April poll of the same population, taken in the wake of Donald Trump's birther proclamations and before the White House had published Obama's long-form birth certificate, showed 41 percent of RRLs saying the president was definitely or probably born in another country.
The South in general and South Carolina in particular are "huge" in today's presidential politics, Huffmon says. South Carolina hosts the first Southern presidential primary in every election cycle, and the state's vote has correctly predicted the Republican nominee in every presidential election since 1980. The South is a crucial voting bloc for Republicans, and if one candidate can win the vote of all 11 historical Southern states, he or she already has 59 percent of the electoral votes necessary to win an election.
"Democrats need to crack the South," Huffmon says. Jimmy Carter, he notes, nearly swept the region in 1976 but lost the re-election in 1980 when his only Southern win was in his home state of Georgia. Bill Clinton, too, made a decent showing in the South in both of his wins, and Obama won Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida in 2008.
The poll also looked at South Carolina conservatives' opinions about contenders for the GOP presidential nomination. Huffmon conducted a similar poll in April, and he says the major difference in the latest poll is that "there was no Rick Perry last time." In April, out of a field of 15 potential GOP nominees, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney led the pack with 16 percent of RRLs saying they would vote for him if they had to vote that day. Now Perry is out in front with 31 percent, and Romney follows in second with 27 percent. Herman Cain holds a distant third at 7 percent, followed by Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann, who is tied with Ron Paul at 4 percent.
Here are a few more interesting tidbits from Huffmon's study, which was published Sept. 20:
• 69 percent of South Carolina's RRLs approve of Nikki Haley's performance as governor.
• 83 percent of Democrats approve of the way President Obama is handling his job, compared to 31 percent of independents and 7 percent of Republicans.
• 61 percent of RRLs say it is more important to select a Republican presidential nominee who matches their beliefs. 32 percent say it is more important to select a nominee who will beat Obama.
• 67 percent of RRLs say they are not members of the Tea Party movement, but 74 percent say they agree with its principles.
• 34 percent of RRLs named jobs or unemployment as the most important problem facing South Carolina, followed by the economy and financial crisis (29 percent) and education (8 percent).
• 57 percent of RRLs listed their personal financial situation as excellent or good; 32 percent said their financial situation was fair; 9 percent said it was poor.
To read the full report, click here.