Sunday, February 26, 2012

How much do Americans love South Carolina? It depends.

Polls are fun, and some are funny. One was released this week that is a little sad, a little scary.

It comes from Public Policy Polling, a company based in Raleigh, North Carolina, that has had phenomenal results in its short history. In fact, the Wall Street Journal ranked PPP as one of the top swing state pollsters in the country during the last Presidential election.

So PPP conducted a massive nationwide polling project late last fall and into the winter, collecting thousands of telephone interviews -- roughly 700 per state -- to get a sense of how Americans feel about states.

The cover summary that accompanied the poll said this:

Over the course of four months starting last October, PPP asked American voters nationally what their impressions of each state are. Hawaii came out on top, by far, with California bringing up the rear.

Americans generally have a favorable view of most states. Only five are in negative territory, led by California (27% favorable and 44% unfavorable), Illinois (19-29), New Jersey (25-32), Mississippi (22-28), and Utah (24-27). Only seven other states have net-positive ratings in the single digits, and another breaks even (Louisiana).

54% see Hawaii positively and only 10% negatively, followed in the top ten by Colorado (44-9), Tennessee (48-14), South Dakota (42-8), Virginia (45-13), Montana (39-7), Alaska (46-17), Oregon (43-14), and North Carolina and Pennsylvania (each 40-11). Ten others are in positive territory by at least 21 points.

Women have a higher opinion of New York by 27 points more than men, Massachusetts by 22 points, Delaware and California by 16, New Hampshire by 15, Vermont and Illinois by 13, and Connecticut by 11, while men see North Dakota more favorably by 17 points, South Carolina by 15, Wyoming 14, Montana 13, and Iowa and South Dakota 10.

Democrats’ favorite states include Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Colorado, and New York, and their least favorites are led by Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi. Republicans love Alaska and Texas, and absolutely hate California, followed distantly by Illinois and Massachusetts. So the greatest partisan gap is for California, which Democrats like 91 points more than Republicans do, followed by Texas, which is favored more by Republicans by 82 points.

Black voters dislike 10 of the 14 Southern states.

PPP surveyed 1,200 American voters from February 9th to 12th, 700 voters from January 13th to 16th, 700 voters from December 16th to 18th, and 700 voters from October 7th to 10th, 2011. The margin of error for the February survey is +/-2.8%, and +/-3.7% for the January, December, and October surveys. This poll was not paid for or authorized by any campaign or political organization. PPP surveys are conducted through automated telephone interviews. PPP is a Democratic polling company, but polling expert Nate Silver of the New York Times found that its surveys in 2010 actually exhibited a slight bias toward Republican candidates.

You get the overall picture.

So, how do people feel about South Carolina? I dug into the poll data to find out.

Americans have strong feelings about our state. Their impressions depend a lot on their ideologies and demographics, but here's a cheat sheet: If you're a conservative/Republican white male, you love the place. If you're a liberal/Democratic African-American female, well, not so much.

It appears that the more conservative Americans are, the more favorably they view South Carolina. "Very conservative" voters rated it favorable, 53 percent to two percent (with 45 percent saying they're "not sure"). Similarly, "somewhat conservative" voters rated it favorable, 47 percent to eight percent (with another 45 percent "not sure").

Voters at the other end of the spectrum gave predictably reversed responses: only 16 percent of "very liberal" voters gave South Carolina a "favorable" label, with 39 percent labeling the state "unfavorable. Among "somewhat liberal" voters, the scores were 21 percent favorable and 34 percent unfavorable, with the same 45 percent "not sure."

Self-identified "moderate" voters split their vote, with only 25 percent favorable and 23 percent unfavorable, leaving more than half, 51 percent, calling themselves not sure.

A definite gender gap is found in the data. Men clearly appreciate South Carolina, with 40 percent rating it favorably to 18 percent unfavorably, and 42 percent calling themselves "not sure."

Women hedge their bets; only 28 percent rate the state favorable, with 21 percent rating it unfavorable and more than half, 52 percent, saying they're not sure.

The poll data surfaces clear differences according to specific party affiliation, too. Call yourself Republican, and 49 percent of you give South Carolina a favorable rating, compared to five percent unfavorable and 45 percent unsure. Call yourself Democrat, and only 20 percent of you see the state favorably, compared to 35 percent unfavorable and 46 percent unsure.

Half of Independents say they're unsure; 35 percent rated South Carolina "favorable," and 15 percent "unfavorable."

Finally, race plays a part in one's view of South Carolina. Among Hispanic voters, 35 percent rate the state "favorable," compared to 21 percent "unfavorable" and 44 percent "unsure." But even more whites and African-Americans were unsure of their answers, 45 percent and 46 percent of their categories, respectively. Still, white Americans appreciate the state, 38 percent favorable to 17 percent unfavorable; African-Americans hold an opposite view, 32 percent unfavorable to 21 percent favorable.

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