Justice Scalia and the Presidential Election; Latest South Carolina Polls

Feb. 16, 2016 — The sudden death of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia over the weekend will have a major effect upon the 2016 presidential elections. Both sides will now emphasize base issues such as abortion and 2nd Amendment rights in order to energize their respective constituencies. The heightened political atmosphere could lead to the largest electoral turnout in United States history.

Expect the Supreme Court vacancy to dominate the political coverage for the rest of the year. The high court situation not only changes the open presidential campaign, but it puts new importance upon the US Senate campaigns because the Scalia replacement confirmation battle could possibly be delayed to 2017. Since neither party will have close to the 60 seats needed to invoke cloture, we can expect this contentious situation to be unresolved for months.

South Carolina

Two new polls were released over the weekend, from the American Research Group (Feb. 12-13; 400 likely South Carolina Republican primary voters) and CBS/YouGov (Feb. 10-12; 744 likely South Carolina Republican primary voters). GOP voters cast their ballots in the party-run primary this coming Saturday, Feb. 20, while their Democratic Party counterparts will vote a week later on Feb. 27.

For the Republicans, businessman Donald Trump leads both polls. The ARG results, conducted with live telephone interviewers, find Trump topping the field at 35 percent. This firm, however, sees something new. According to the ARG data, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has climbed into second place with 15 percent, a result not previously seen, just ahead of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (14 percent). Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is next (12 percent) with ex-Gov. Jeb Bush close behind at 10 percent. Dr. Ben Carson records only two percent in this particular survey.

The CBS/YouGov poll, conducted over the Internet, sees things much differently. Their data finds Trump with a larger vote share, some 42 percent preference among those polled. YouGov then posts Sen. Cruz in second with 20 percent, Rubio third with 15 percent, Kasich at nine percent, while Bush and Carson follow, each with six percent support.

Neither poll, however, segmented the polling responses by congressional district. Republicans apportion their 50 delegates through a Winner-Take-All by congressional district system, whereby the candidate placing first in each of the state’s seven congressional districts will claim three delegate votes for each CD won.

The statewide winner, Trump according to these polls, will capture the South Carolina 29 at-large delegates. Should these trends continue, Trump could conceivably leave South Carolina with as many as 38-41 of the 50 available delegates.

The Democrats use the straight proportional formula to distribute their 59 Palmetto State delegates. Both ARG and CBS/YouGov also surveyed the Democratic field.

According to the American Research Group data (Feb. 12-13; 400 likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters), former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton maintains her southern dominance over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT). In this poll, she records a whopping 65-27 percent advantage.

But the CBS/YouGov results (Feb. 10-12; 404 likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters) are again much different, revealing a much tighter contest. Though Clinton still has a healthy lead over Sen. Sanders, the polling suggests a 59-40 percent advantage rather than the gaudier ARG finding.

Factoring in announced Super Delegates, Clinton is on the cusp of 400 convention votes, versus Sen. Sanders who is still only approaching 50. The South Carolina results, a springboard into the important March 1 Super Tuesday 12-state showdown will only increase the former Secretary of State and First Lady’s overall delegate preference margin.

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