South Carolina Polling Flawed

Dec. 22, 2015 — South Carolina is an important early primary state and may have an even greater role than usual in setting the tone for the 2016 Republican race. Two December polls surveyed the Palmetto State Republican electorate, but the data snapshot does not provide us with a true indication of delegate apportionment and this latter point, from a nationwide perspective, is determinative regarding who wins the GOP presidential nomination.

With current polling suggesting that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) may place first in the Iowa Caucus and Donald Trump well positioned to top the field in the New Hampshire primary, scoring a big delegate haul in South Carolina will give one of the candidates a clear momentum boost heading into the eleven-state Super Tuesday contests scheduled for March 1.

It’s the South Carolina delegate apportionment system that renders the latest state polls inconclusive. Under Republican Party rules, the state uses a Winner-Take-All by congressional district option, and then awards a large chunk of the at-large delegates to the statewide winner. The polling misses a key point because it does not segment the responses into the state’s seven congressional districts. This is largely because the individual district sample sizes would be too small to produce reliable results.

The Augusta (GA) Chronicle newspaper went into the field on Dec. 16 and questioned 536 likely Republican primary voters through an interactive voice response automated system. The results project Donald Trump leading the field, posting 28 percent. Sen. Cruz placed second at 21 percent and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) finished third with 12 percent. All other candidates fell to single digits, including home state Sen. Lindsey Graham with just two percent. The Fox News study, conducted during the December 5-8 period (437 likely Republican primary voters) finds Trump holding a much larger 35-15-14-14 percent advantage over Dr. Ben Carson, Cruz, and Rubio, respectively.

As previously stated, neither of these polls defines how the candidates are faring in congressional districts 1-7. Placing first in a CD, irrespective of vote total or percentage, awards such candidate three delegates. Additionally, the individual capturing the greatest number of statewide votes will be awarded 26 at-large delegates. The remaining three delegates: the South Carolina Republican chairman, and the National Committeeman and Committeewoman, are unbound throughout the balloting.

The initial four states: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, are often trendsetters for the key votes that come in March. In 2016, Iowa kicks-off the voting on February 1, New Hampshire follows on Feb. 9, with South Carolina on the 20th, and the Nevada Caucus wrapping up February voting on the 23rd. The aggregate delegate total for the First Four is only 133, with 50 of those coming from South Carolina. Therefore, it is the Palmetto State with its unusual application of having so many at-large delegates in a Winner-Take-All by CD format that becomes the delegate prize within the early group.

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