South Carolina Republican voters favor Donald Trump over his field of rivals for their party’s presidential nomination by more than 2 to 1, with the former president’s support in the state buoyed by those who oppose legal abortion, are concerned about anti-White discrimination and believe the 2020 election was stolen, according to a Washington Post-Monmouth University poll.
The Post-Monmouth poll finds 46 percent of potential Republican primary voters in South Carolina support Trump at this early stage of the campaign. The state’s former governor Nikki Haley, who later served as United Nations ambassador in Trump’s administration, stands in second place at 18 percent, triple her support in national polls following last month’s GOP debate.
Another 10 percent support South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, and 9 percent back Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The poll is a fresh indicator of trouble for DeSantis, who has struggled to gain traction nationally and in key early states after he entered the race amid high expectations.
Five percent support former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and 3 percent apiece choose former vice president Mike Pence and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson stands at 2 percent, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum receives less than 1 percent.
Combining voters’ first and second preferences, 52 percent say Trump, compared with 34 percent for Haley, 30 percent for DeSantis, 25 percent for Scott and 12 percent for Ramaswamy, with others in single digits.
The poll comes as a slew of other recent surveys have shown Trump far ahead of his rivals in the contest as he confronts 91 charges across four criminal cases. Those seeking to emerge as the chief alternative have had trouble breaking away from the pack, leaving the former president in a commanding position headed into the fall stretch. Many strategists are eyeing the second televised debate, on Sept. 27 in Simi Valley, Calif., as the next big moment in the race.
South Carolina has often played a pivotal role in presidential nomination contests, coming after opening events in Iowa and New Hampshire. Trump solidified his grip on the nomination by easily winning the primary there in 2016 after losing in Iowa and winning in New Hampshire.
The state could prove to be a crucial test again in 2024 and is complicated by the presence of both Scott and Haley in the race, though it is not clear now who among those running will remain viable by the time of the Feb. 24 primary. The current shape of the South Carolina race could change before primary day there based on what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire, as results in those two states have sometimes influenced voters in the Palmetto State.
The poll, which finds large divisions between Trump supporters and those backing other GOP candidates, highlights both the former president’s dominant standing in the party and the degree to which much of the party’s base shares his views, even in contradiction of the facts.
Nearly 9 in 10 Trump supporters say Joe Biden won the 2020 election only “due to voter fraud,” while about 6 in 10 of those supporting other Republicans say Biden won “fair and square.” There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election despite persistent claims by Trump, with courts repeatedly rejecting Trump’s lawyers’ claims.
A 73 percent majority of Trump backers say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, while 52 percent of those voters who support other candidates say abortion should be legal. And 65 percent of Trump primary supporters say “Whites losing out to preferences for Blacks and Hispanics” is a bigger problem in the United States than the reverse, compared with 38 percent of those who do not support Trump for the nomination.
Despite those deep divisions, Trump’s strengths align with the bulk of GOP voters. A 57 percent majority of potential South Carolina primary voters believe the 2020 election was fraudulent, and 58 percent say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. More than twice as many Republican voters say Whites losing out due to preferences for Blacks and Hispanics is a bigger problem (49 percent) than vice versa (22 percent), while 29 percent volunteer no opinion.
About 8 in 10 Republican voters in South Carolina say they are following the race at least somewhat closely. About half of those with a current preference say they will “definitely” vote for that candidate, though Trump’s support is significantly more solid, with 76 percent saying they are committed to vote for him compared with 33 percent of those who support other candidates saying they are firmly committed to their favorite.
Favorability ratings suggest Haley, Scott and DeSantis could have growth potential. Roughly 6 in 10 South Carolina GOP voters have a favorable opinion of Haley and Scott, though that is similar to Trump’s standing. Scott has the lowest unfavorable rating at 20 percent, similar to 24 percent for Haley but lower than 30 percent for Trump. DeSantis’s image is slightly weaker at 50 percent favorable, 30 percent unfavorable and 20 percent having no opinion.
Majorities of Republicans who are either unfavorable or favorable toward Trump have positive feelings toward home-state candidates Haley and Scott, while DeSantis has majority favorability among those who like Trump, and is seen mostly unfavorably among those who dislike the former president.
Ramaswamy receives mixed reviews with 28 percent favorable, 33 percent unfavorable and a larger 40 percent having no opinion or saying they haven’t heard about him. Pence and Christie have the worst images in the state. A majority (56 percent) have an unfavorable view of the former vice president, who broke with Trump on Jan. 6, 2021, by refusing to disrupt the counting of the electoral vote in Congress. Meanwhile, 61 percent have an unfavorable view of Christie, who has leveled the harshest and most consistent attacks on Trump during the campaign.
In addition to his current 28-percentage-point lead, Trump enjoys several other strengths at this stage. Three-quarters of his supporters — 35 percent of all potential primary voters in South Carolina — say they will definitely vote for him. His overall 46 percent support rises to 54 percent among those with a high rate of turnout in previous South Carolina Republican primaries compared with 36 percent among lower-turnout voters.
Similarly, his support among those who say they are certain to vote is 51 percent, compared with 26 percent among those who say they will probably vote or who say there is a 50 percent chance they’ll vote. Haley’s support is relatively high among low-turnout and less-certain voters.
Trump’s strongest support ideologically is among those who describe themselves as “very conservative,” which accounts for about one-third of voters. Sixty-two percent of those very conservative South Carolina Republicans support him, compared with 49 percent who are somewhat conservative and 27 percent who call themselves moderate or liberal.
He holds a more than 3 to 1 advantage over Haley among voters without four-year college degrees (54 percent to 16 percent) and also tops the field, though more narrowly, among college grads (30 percent for Trump and 22 percent for Haley).
A 54 percent majority of Republicans say Trump is definitely or probably the strongest candidate to beat Biden, while 42 percent think another candidate would be stronger. And while Republican voters are roughly split on whether they prefer a candidate who agrees with them on major issues (51 percent) or can beat Biden (45 percent), most electability-focused voters see Trump as having the best chance to defeat the incumbent president next year.
The Post-Monmouth poll was conducted Sept. 6-11 among a random sample of 506 potential GOP primary voters in South Carolina sampled from a statewide voter file. The sample was limited to voters who registered since 2020 or who records indicate voted in past Republican primaries; it included only voters who said they are certain (78 percent), probable (15 percent) or that there is a 50-50 chance (7 percent) of voting in the February primary. Interviews were completed by live callers on cellphones and landlines, as well as through an online survey via cellphone text invitation. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4.6 percentage points among the full sample of potential Republican primary voters.