Polling house says randomness, not tampering prevailed in Greene's win

Tom Jensen
Tom Jensen

RALEIGH, NC - By Sam Tyson email | Twitter

RALEIGH, NC (WCSC) - A polling information center has concluded the surprise primary victory for Alvin Greene was not a GOP plot, but a completely random outcome based on an election in which both candidates were unknown.

"I don't see any evidence of GOP chicanery," said Tom Jensen, the director of Public Policy Polling.

Rep. Jim Clyburn has called for an investigation into Greene's win, saying he has seen evidence of tampering in a number of races across the state. Jensen disagrees.

"Ultimately, what we're concluding is it was pretty much completely random who was going to win given that no voters had heard of either of the candidates," he said.

The group had assumed Vic Rawl would win the primary, Jensen said, because he was expected to campaign much harder and he had the political bonus of being an existing public official. The group had even done an early comparison between Rawl and Republican Sen. Jim DeMint. That's where Rawl's underlying problem appeared, said Jensen.

"We polled a head-to-head match-up between Vic Rawl and Jim DeMint at the end of May and what the polls found were that only 4 percent of Democrats had a favorable opinion of Vic Rawl," said Jensen.

Walter Ludwig, Rawl's campaign manager, questions the PPP's data, though. According to him, the Rawl campaign had a poll conducted ten days before the primary looking ahead to the general election in November.

"It only had us trailing Jim DeMint 50-43," said Ludwig. He say the campaign sent out 220,000 robo-calls and another 300,000 emails about Rawl's campaign.

The PPP data didn't initially give researchers pause, but on the back side of a primary race that has since gained national attention, the group has re-examined their findings.

"It's really not that surprising that someone with only 4 percent name recognition would lose a primary," said Jensen. "Even though Rawl was well-known in insider circles, he just hadn't made any impact on the voters at large."

When voters are put in a situation of choosing between two unknown candidates, they make decisions based on random criteria, said Jensen. Greene's victory could be attributed to any number of variables including "ballot positioning or the theory that his name sounded more African-American," he said.

But he said he was likely not any one factor, but a variety of conditions that led to Greene's victory.

Jensen said Rawl is to blame for his own loss because he didn't realize the political trouble he was in. The lack of name recognition across the state would have been replaced with at least some degree of identity had Rawl spent the needed money in radio and television advertising. Jensen said Rawls made the mistake of assuming he was going to win the primary because his challenger was a literal unknown. However, Rawls was also an unknown outside the Lowcountry.

Jensen calls it a cautionary tale for candidates. "Even if it seems like, on paper, they're the much more serious candidate than their opponent, they shouldn't just assume that the voters know that," he said.

However, Jensen did say he was curious to know who paid Greene's filing fee.

Ludwig said the Rawl campaign had no knowledge of any foul play, but he says Clyburn "knows a lot more about South Carolina politics thank you, me or the poll director at the PPP."

Greene is a veteran who has been unemployed for the last nine months and, according to recent records, only has $114 in his campaign bank account. Greene says he paid all of his campaign bills with his own money.

Since his primary victory, Greene has faced a host of hurdles to transition his campaign into a race against DeMint, the least of which is money or name recognition. The day after Greene won, The Associated Press released an article detailing Greene's arrest record and pending felony obscenity charge and state Democratic Party Chair Carol Fowler asked for his withdrawal. Friday, a group calling themselves "Defend Alvin Greene" held a press conference in Columbia asking for Fowler's resignation.

Greene has said he plans to stay in the race and has yet to comment on the obscenity charge.

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