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February 11, 2016

South Carolina 1st District Poll: It’s All About Context

The campaign of Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the Democratic nominee for the special election in South Carolina’s 1st District, released a poll Monday. As with all polls, context matters, so be careful before jumping to conclusions either way.

Conducted for the campaign by Lake Research Partners, the survey shows Colbert Busch leading in general election ballot tests against both Republicans in the runoff, 47 percent to 44 percent over former Gov. Mark Sanford and 48 percent to 39 percent against Curtis Bostic, a social conservative who served on the Charleston County council.

According to the press release, the poll showed Colbert Busch with “a 2-to-1 favorability rating at 48 percent and 24 percent …”

The release did not include name ID or favorability ratings for either of the Republicans, but it included plenty of campaign propaganda about how great Colbert Busch is and how she will be an “independent voice” for South Carolina.

For Democrats, the poll offers at least some reason for hope. After all, Colbert Busch’s favorable/unfavorable ratings are good, and it’s almost always better to be ahead rather than behind in a ballot test.

But there are also reasons for Democrats — and for Colbert Busch — to worry. Huge reasons.

Colbert Busch is leading Sanford, who was discredited by a personal scandal that made him a national laughing stock, by only 3 points? And she is sitting less than 50 percent in ballot tests against two Republicans with differing problems and before Republican campaign strategists have even landed a glove on her in paid TV advertising?

It’s also a little worrisome that the Lake Research polling memo and Colbert Busch campaign press release single out the candidate’s strong favorability rating (61 percent) in Charleston County. Why include only Colbert Busch’s favorability number in Charleston County, the most Democratic of the district’s larger counties? Why not also note her favorability numbers in Beaufort and Berkeley counties, two Republican counties that together have a larger population than Charleston?

I think we can all guess the answer to that question: The polling memo is little more than an attempt to generate momentum and dollars for Colbert Busch’s campaign, rather than a vehicle for shedding light on where the race stands and where it might go. So the campaign and the campaign pollster release only those numbers consistent with the memo’s purpose.

Colbert Busch’s campaign obviously hopes her lack of a voting record will make it difficult for Republicans to paint her as some kind of liberal Democrat. And it may.

But her good name ID ratings simply reflect the fact that Republicans haven’t yet defined her, and the district’s partisan bent — Barack Obama drew less than 43 percent in the district in his 2008 and 2012 presidential bids — means district voters, most of whom are either Republican or conservative, are likely to be receptive to GOP attacks on the Democratic nominee.

As I wrote in an early March column, this special election is worth watching, and I expect national Republicans to have to get involved to hold the seat. But Colbert Busch remains an underdog in a Republican-leaning district. The Lake Research poll and campaign press release don’t change any of that.

  • Ajax the Greater

    PPP Poll also has Sanford down 2 points 47-45:

    I am sure you are aware of this, as this is your business, so your decision not to include reflects poorly on you and your analysis.

  • Richard Winger

    A poll that wanted the most accurate results would include all three candidates who will be on the special general election.

  • DemDisaster

    What Stu left out of this article is that Lake Research Partners is owned by Celinda Lake, one of the democratic party’s key political strategists. I have a difficult time believing anything in this poll. They probably asked jobless democrats on unemployment, that cherish their EBT cards and Obama phones, if they would vote for someone that would continue giving them free stuff, or Mark Sanford.

    • Roberto Murbach

      If this poll is somewhat accurate then it is reflective of Sanford’s standing as a scoundrel who cheated on his wife and lied about his whereabouts. And because Colbert Busch has no voting record and hasn’t staked out positions on any major issues, she is getting the benefit of the doubt from those who were polled. I still believe that Sanford will win, but it will be much closer than most Republicans operatives expect.

  • sleeve

    Instead of making illogical conclusions, why not ask the campaign or polling service for the explanation? Because then you don’t have a story at all? That’s okay, as we prefer facts and data instead of fifth-grade girl hints.

  • Joseph Mouser

    Sounds Like the old saying from my Political Science professor “Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure”

  • PictouGene

    Good ole boy Stu trying to “cook the polls” again.

    Stu: we all know you’re a rock ribbed Republican…

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