Thursday, May 9, 2013

Gov. Nikki Haley looks strong in SC-1, But Not As Strong As In November 2010

Gov. Haley (R - SC), 2nd from left, pictured with staff for Vogue photo-shoot in 2012. Photo courtesy of Norman Jean Roy & Vogue.

In all the hysteria surrounding the circus that was the South Carolina First Congressional Special Election, a little-noticed poll finding from PPP's now infamous "Colbert-Busch surging" April survey surely got the attention of both Gov. Nikki Haley and her likely 2014 opponent State Senator Vincent Sheheen (D).

In the same poll where PPP found Elizabeth Colbert-Busch with a 9 point lead over Mark Sanford, Gov. Nikki Haley led  Sheheen by a margin of 44-38%; much smaller than the margin by which Mitt Romney carried the first district in 2012 (58-40%), and indeed, smaller than the margin Mark Sanford eventually won the district (54-45%).

Not only that, her 44-38% lead over Sheheen in a heavily Republican district represents quite the deterioration in her support since election night 2010.

Unfortunately for researchers, determining Haley's support in the 2010 Governor's race by congressional district is NOT easy. For starters, the boundaries of District 1 were entirely different when Haley was first elected in November 2010. And to make things MORE difficult, South Carolina does not provide gubernatorial results by congressional district (because SC districts rarely follow actual county borders). But thanks to Harry Enten of The Guardian and the South Carolina Election Commission, I was able to track down the Haley v. Sheheen results in every precinct that makes up the CURRENT District 1. Through that research, it was determined that Nikki Haley defeated Vincent Sheheen for Governor in CURRENT-DAY SC-1 by a margin of  58-40% (the same margin by which Romney carried the district against Obama). See the table below for South Carolina Governor Results in EACH county that is at least partially contained within the 1st district: (for a complete tabulation of the 2010 Governor votes in each 1st congressional district precinct, go here.)

Now you can see why 44-38% in a district she carried by 18 points bodes very poorly for Haley, especially considering that her overall winning margin in 2010 was just four points, or 51-47%.

But not so fast. Wasn't that April PPP poll widely canned in the aftermath of the SC-1 election? Remember, that poll that showed a wild fluctuation to a very Democratic friendly electorate for one survey, before returning back to it's nearly identical electorate from before in the final poll?

If you agree with The New Republic's Nate Cohn and The Guardian's Harry J. Enten's take on tha April "Colbert-Busch surging" poll from PPP, then Nikki Haley can take solace in the fact that she's likely doing a bit better in SC-1 than a 44-38% lead over her Democratic challenger.

To see exactly how well she COULD BE DOING, let's simply reweight the April PPP racial I.D. numbers and ideological I.D. numbers to the two survey findings that fell more in line with the 2012 SC-1 presidential electorate (their 1st and final SC-1 poll).

The chart below takes a look at how Nikki Haley's numbers would have looked against Vincent Sheheen in the 1st District had the racial identification of the respondents looked like PPP's March and May surveys:

As you can see, Governor Haley would've had as much as a 9 point lead over Sheheen (44-35%) had PPP found an SC-1 electorate like they had in March.

The difference between PPP's actual finding and reweighted findings gets even larger when considering ideological identification. One of the most radical shifts seen in PPP's results over the course of 6 weeks of SC-1 polling came in respondents identification of whether they were Conservative, Liberal, or Moderate. The table below shows you how the Haley vs. Sheheen results would have looked, all other findings remaining the same, had PPP found an ideological composition similar to their March and May polls:

Reweighting the ideological identification of the April PPP poll to the March and May surveys creates an even wider gulf between the Haley/Sheheen result than reweighting to racial identification. Here, Haley's leads grow to 12 and 14 points respectively, much more in line with her actual performance in the district in her Governor's race 2.5 years ago.

Having said this, it would be a mistake to take a look at these numbers and assume that Haley is out of electoral trouble. If you believe PPP's findings in terms of how Haley and Sheheen are performing with whites, blacks, conservatives, moderates, and liberals, AND if you believe that the SC gubernatorial electorate will look more like PPP's March and May polls, and not their April poll, Haley is still only leading in the 1st district from anywhere between 8 and 14 points.

Why is this not good enough: recall, she carried what eventually became the CURRENT 1st District 58-40% in November 2010, and that was only good enough for a statewide 51-47% victory. Being ahead just 8-14 points in the first district implies an even closer result than 2010.

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