The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

The Sudden Shift in South Carolina’s Polls


This is not what Democrats wanted to or expected to see, the day before South Carolina’s special House election:

PPP’s final poll of the special election in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District finds a race that’s too close to call, with Republican Mark Sanford leading Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch 47–46. The 1 point lead for Sanford represents a 10 point reversal from PPP’s poll of the race two weeks ago, when Colbert Busch led by 9 points at 50–41.

Sanford has gotten back into the race by nationalizing it and painting Colbert Busch as a liberal. A plurality of voters in the district — 47% — say they think Colbert Busch is a liberal compared to 43% who characterize her as ideologically ‘about right.’ Colbert Busch’s favorability rating has dropped a net 19 points compared to 2 weeks ago, from +25 then at 56/31 to +6 now at 50/44.

While Colbert Busch is seen as too liberal, 48% of voters think that Sanford’s views are “about right” on the issues compared to just 38% who see him as too conservative. Sanford’s also seen some repair to his image over the course of the campaign. Although he’s still unpopular, sporting a –11 net favorability rating at 43/54, that’s up a net 13 points from our first poll in March when he was at 34/58.

A ten-point shift!

Either the Sanford campaign is a bunch of messaging geniuses . . . or perhaps Colbert Busch’s lead was never that high. As our Betsy Woodruff notes, “Representative James Clyburn (D., S.C.) told reporters at the press conference today that internal polling data never gave Colbert Busch more than a 3-point lead.”

Do PPP polls often show the Democrat performing six points better than their internal polling?

The pollster further explains:

The other key development in this race over the last two weeks is that Republicans are returning to the electorate. On our last poll, conducted right after the trespassing charges against Sanford became public, we found that the likely electorate had voted for Mitt Romney by only 5 points in a district that he actually won by 18. That suggested many Republican voters were depressed and planning to stay home. On our final poll we find an electorate that’s Romney +13 — that’s still more Democratic than the turnout from last fall, but it’s a lot better for Sanford than it was a couple weeks ago.

Or perhaps the previous sample just wasn’t a realistic portrait of the likely turnout in this district, even in a special election, and even with these unusually high-profile candidates?

For what it is worth, last week a poll commissioned by Red Racing Horses showed the race tied. So Sanford may have the momentum, but it’s not over until the votes are counted tomorrow night.

Tags: Mark Sanford , Elizabeth Colbert Busch


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