Clemson University Palmetto Poll

Executive Summary


          As the South Carolina presidential primary draws near, voters across the state are still unsure of whom they will support in the Republican primary on January 19th, and the Democratic primary on January 26th.  The third Clemson University Palmetto Poll finds both contests close with most voters paying attention, but unsure of who will capture their allegiance in January.

            The number of undecided voters went up from the last poll in August to November, with some 28  percent of the Republicans and 49 percent of the Democrats saying that they had not made up their mind.  Importantly, the Palmetto Poll asked respondents if they were likely to stay with the person they choose of “change their mind: between now and January.  About 65 percent of the Republicans and 51 percent of the Democrats said they were likely to change their mind before the election in January.

            In the Republican contest, Mitt Romney (17 percent) and Fred Thompson (15 percent) are within the margin of error of the poll.  The poll has a plus of minus 4.62 percent error in each party subgroup, and was of 450 likely Republican and 450 likely Democratic voters.  The surprising third place candidate was the fast-closing Mike Huckabee (13 percent) with John McCain next at 11 percent.  Huckabee is the most improved candidate in the GOP field since the last Palmetto Poll in August of 2007, rising to “top tier” status in South Carolina.  The candidate who has lost the most momentum is Rudy Giuliani (9 percent) who has dropped from being a leader in August to a trailing fifth now.

            Among the Democrats the top two candidates are all within the margin of error, with Hillary Clinton (19 percent) barely ahead of Barack Obama (17 percent), and John Edwards (12 percent) improving in the only primary state he won in 2004.  In the two months since the last Palmetto Poll, Senator Clinton has watched her lead shrink by seven points and has dropped back to the rest of the field.


Clemson University Palmetto Poll

Tables and Explanation

            With less than two months to go before the crucial South Carolina presidential primary, the Clemson University Palmetto Poll finds that only about one-third of the likely voters in the Democratic and Republican primaries have a good idea about who they will vote for in the election next year.

            Every candidate for president, in both political parties, has spent time in South Carolina, and several are now running television ads in anticipation of the January vote.  The Clemson University Palmetto Poll  was conducted between November 14th and November 27th, with four days off for the Thanksgiving holidays.

            Respondents were chosen for either party sample if they voted in at least one of the past four Democratic or Republican primaries.  All were asked if they were going to vote in January of 2008.  These primary voters are different from general election voters in that they are better informed, are somewhat older and better educated and generally more interested in politics.  Over one-half of voters in the Republican sample were aged 55 years or older, and the voting cohort for the GOP primary is 97 percent racially white.  The Democratic sample is 60  percent female, and evenly split racially, with black voters being slightly more than half of expected primary voters.

            Currently the Republican primary is set for Saturday, January 19th and the Democratic primary is set one week later, on Saturday, January 26th.  Four hundred fifty respondents were interviewed in each party sample for a total of 900 respondents.  The poll has an error of plus or minus 4.62  percent in each party subgroup.

            The first question asked respondents how closely they were following the present election.  The placement of the South Carolina primaries immediately after the Christmas holidays means that candidate commercials will be running in competition with business advertising.  How closely are South Carolina voters following the campaign in November?

Q1. Thinking about the 2008 presidential election, which of the following best describes your thoughts on this contest?

                                                                        Republicans                             Democrats

                                                            August                        November       August            November

  1. Have a good idea about                                                                                                   

who to support.                       26 percent                    34 percent                32 percent                   33 percent

  1.  Have been following

the news but haven’t

decided.                                  65 percent                      56 percent                   52 percent                     56 percent

  1. Not paying much attention     29 percent                       6 percent                    36 percent                       8 percent


The August poll allowed respondents to be in multiple categories when asked about their

attention to the campaign, the November poll asked them to specify one of the response categories.  The voters here are following the news, but remain open to candidate commercial appeals and television coverage of their visits.  We find that most people are following the news coverage of the election, but only about one-third have a good idea about who they will support.

            Previous Palmetto Polls have asked about name recognition and favorability ratings of the candidates.  The November poll assumed that the candidates were making an impression, or not making an impression, on the voters.  Accordingly we followed the question about attention to the campaign with the familiar head-to-head race for each party.

 Q2. If the 2008 presidential primary in South Carolina were held today, for whom would you vote?

Republicans:                                                    August            November        percent Change

  1. Fred Thompson                                   19 percent                       15 percent                           -4 percent
  2. Rudy Giuliani                                     18 percent                         9 percent                           -9 percent
  3. John McCain                                       15 percent                       11 percent                           -4 percent
  4. Mitt Romney                                       11 percent                       17 percent                           +6 percent
  5. Mike Huckabee                                     6 percent                       13 percent                           +7 percent
  6. Ron Paul                                               1 percent                         6 percent                           +5 percent
  7. Duncan Hunter                                   --                            1 percent                           +1 percent
  8. Tom Tancrado                                     --                           --                             --
  9. Undecided                                          20 percent                      28 percent                            +8 percent


The most improved candidate in the field is Mike Huckabee, followed by Mitt Romney. 

We note that Romney is the candidate who has been most visible on television since the last Palmetto Poll in August.  The improved standing of Mike Huckabee makes him now a top tier candidate in South Carolina.  Ron Paul remains a second tier candidate, but he has improved his standing statewide.  Rudy Giuliani has dropped precipitously in the past two months.  In the first Palmetto Poll in October, 2006 Giuliani was a familiar name and popular choice for Republican voters, but since August he has lost half his support among primary voters.

            We note that the number of undecided voters in this second poll of 2007 has risen.  As the election itself draws closer, voters are taking their responsibilities more seriously, and respondents are less likely to make casual selection when queried about who they are likely to support in the January vote. 


Democrats:                                                      August            November        percent Change

  1. Hillary Clinton                                      26 percent                      19 percent       -7 percent
  2. Barack Obama                                                  16 percent                      17 percent       +1 percent
  3. John Edwards                                       10 percent                      12 percent       +2 percent
  4. Joe Biden                                                3 percent                       2 percent                    -1 percent
  5. Bill Richardson                                      2 percent                        1 percent                    -1 percent
  6. Chris Dodd                                           --                         --                      --
  7. Dennis Kucinich                                   --                         --                      --
  8. Mike Gravel                                          --                         --                      --
  9. Undecided                                          35 percent                      49 percent                     +14 percent


Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are in a statistical dead heat in the state, and much of the lead Senator Clinton had in August has evaporated.  Over half the expected Democratic vote in 2008 will be in the African American community.  As expected, Barack Obama is drawing heavily from this group, over three-quarters of his supporters are African-American.  Senator Clinton is drawing over half her support from this cohort as well. 

            The most important figure is the number of undecided voters in the Democratic subgroup, which totals nearly half of those surveyed. 

            The final question in the Palmetto Poll asked voters about “how sure” they were that their choice of a candidate was conclusive.  Voters were asked the following question as a follow-up after they made a choice for the primary election. 

Q3.  Are you sure about voting for _______________ or might you change your mind before the South Carolina primary elections?


Very sure                     33 percent

Might change              65 percent

DK/NA                         2 percent




Very sure                     49 percent

Might change              51 percent

DK/NA                       --


Most voters in both parties expressed reservations about having made a final choice for the presidential primary next January.  Clearly, the outcome in South Carolina is up for grabs.