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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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A closer look at the SurveyUSA poll
Jonathan Pait
May 8, 2002

There has been a lot of posting going on in the comments section concerning the latest SurveyUSA Poll. Actually, there has been a lot of posting since the first poll came out nearly a month ago. First the polls reputation was questioned and now the discussion centers on "the second question."

The question reads: "If no candidate wins a majority in the Republican primary for Governor, a runoff election will be held between the top two candidates. If the candidate you chose does not qualify for the runoff election, who would be your second choice candidate?" It then goes to list the various candidates.

Let's look at the numbers and draw some conclusions.

First we see the percentages from the initial question: “If the Republican primary for Governor were held today, and you were standing in the voting booth right now, who would you vote for?” It then goes to list the various candidates. Below are the percentages from the April poll (they are more favorable to Charlie Condon so we will use them for sake of argument).

Peeler: 33%
Condon: 26%
Sanford: 13%
Miles: 8%
Sutherland: 3%
Branton: 3%
Wingate: 1%
Other: 7%
Undecided: 6%

Peeler clearly wins the largest percentage in the primary—even beyond the margin of error. That isn’t a pro-Peeler statement. It is simply the numbers. Ah, but what about the runoff?

For the sake of argument, let’s narrow the runoff to the two best finishers in the primary, Peeler and Condon. Now, let’s also assume that anyone who voted for these guys in the primary is going to vote for them in the runoff.

Peeler: 33%
Condon: 26%

Now, it is interesting to note that the other and undecided percentages are basically constant between the two questions. If you look at the demographic breakdown on these two responses you can reasonably assume that these are voters who really don’t care for any of the candidates. For instance, people of color made up 37% of the 7% “Other” response. 21% of those responding “Other” consider themselves to be liberal. So, rather than having a remaining 41% of voters to split between them, the two candidates could very well be looking at 35%.

So, the big question becomes, for whom will those 35% vote in the run off? In this scenario it would be very bad math to take the second question results at face value. Obviously, some of Condon’s 29% includes Peeler primary voters and some of Peeler’s 21% includes Condon primary voters.

A credible argument can be made that the second question simply shows that more Peeler supporters would choose Condon as their second choice than Condon supporters who would choose Peeler for a second choice. Even there it isn’t by much.

The Peeler people probably won’t like this, but one of the trends in the numbers that supports the argument is the fact that the demographics bear this out. Why would the Peeler people not like it? Does it make him look less conservative? Look at the numbers:

Peeler Primary: Conservatives – 34% / Moderates – 33% / Liberals - 30%
Condon Primary: Conservatives – 30% / Moderates – 23% / Liberals – 19%

Peeler Runoff: Conservatives – 25% / Moderates – 19% / Liberals – 17%
Condon Runoff: Conservatives – 32% / Moderates – 25% / Liberals – 27%

Now look at Miles:

Miles Primary: Conservatives – 7% / Moderates – 9% / Liberals – 10%
Miles Runoff: Conservatives – 17% / Moderates – 17% / Liberals – 18%

The siphon? Miles. Miles is the only candidate to have a significant increase in his second choice numbers over his first choice numbers. His 15% could significantly improve or hurt either candidates' numbers in the runoff.

Conclusions? Well, it really looks like the Peeler people split between Condon and Miles as their second choice. Less of a percentage, but a significant number of Condon people also divide up similarly. What I believe it shows is that in a runoff between Condon and Peeler, it will be close. Peeler would need to really mobilize his base and make sure that the stalwarts turn out for the runoff. If not, it would be very interesting to see what Condon makes of it.

Final point: Funny, but Sanford did not seem to fair well at all among the moderate and liberal demographics. More liberals put their hat in with Reb Sutherland than Mark during the primary question! It went downhill from there for him in the second question. I'll admit that the "Sanford question" grates on me in this poll. My gut tells me this poll isn't quite getting the trend there—of course, the latest poll does show him picking up some points.

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