New poll shows Graham, Harrison within points of each other but experts say path for Harrison is ‘very narrow'

New poll shows Graham, Harrison within points of each other but experts say path for Harrison is ‘very narrow'
(Source: WIS)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A new poll out this week shows the South Carolina Senate race is tight.

According to the Morning Consult, a non-partisan polling firm, Senator Lindsey Graham is only one point ahead of his Democratic challenger, former South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jamie Harrison.

However, in addition to a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points, Morning Consult is not considered a top-rated poll by poll-rater FiveThirtyEight in part because it uses online surveys rather than real people calling to voter’s phones.

Scott Huffmon, the director of the Polling Initiative at Winthrop University, said no single poll is an “absolute barometer of what’s going on,” but this poll is an indication of a larger trend: the race for the South Carolina Senate is not expected to be a huge blowout for Graham.

“A single-digit race is likely, there are enough polls showing a trend and none of them are single outliers. And given the fact that in 2008 Obama only lost by single digits with a strong African-American turnout, I think we are going to see that again,” Huffmon said.

Then-Senator Barack Obama lost South Carolina by 8.7 points to Sen. John McCain in 2008 and less than 11 points in 2012 to Mitt Romney. But, Hillary Clinton lost South Carolina by 14 points.

Therefore, Huffmon argues turnout similar to Obama’s in 2008 is hugely important for Harrison to tighten the race, which he thinks is possible.

“You’re seeing a lot more African-American engagement this time…as compared to 2016. Especially with the Black Lives Matter Movement,” he said.

Huffmon adds the other key to Harrison potentially defeating an incumbent who has defeated three challengers since 2002, is split-ticket voting.

“[Harrison] has a path, but it’s very narrow. Because of how closely tied Lindsey Graham is to Trump you almost have to imagine Trump losing South Carolina for Graham to lose South Carolina and it’s not impossible due to split-ticket voting. But it’s highly unlikely,” Huffmon said.

In the latest Morning Consult poll, President Trump had a five-point advantage in the Palmetto State while Graham was only ahead by one point. Further, nine percent of Republicans were undecided in the Senate race and four percent said they’d vote for someone else. In comparison, four percent of Democrats were undecided and one percent said they’d vote for someone else other than Harrison.

However, a slim chance of split-ticket voting in Harrison’s favor doesn’t mean an impossibility, Huffmon added.

“People absolutely in South Carolina and elsewhere in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s were splitting their tickets, it’s not unheard of for most people…Will it happen here? It’s entirely possible. And part of that is how Jamie Harrison is running his campaign. He’s not just running his campaign as ‘Lindsey Graham is with Trump all the time.’ He is also running on a lot of other issues to pick up a lot of those undecided,” Huffmon said.

The pollster explained many of Harrison’s attacks against the Senator claim Graham is more focused on his national career than the people of South Carolina.

A new mailer out this week sent from the South Carolina Democratic Party writes “Lindsey Graham isn’t working for South Carolina anymore- what a shame,” according to one reviewed by WIS.

Huffmon predicted members of the Graham campaign will “pound the pavement” to widen that margin and both campaigns have sizable war chests to do so.

In response to this latest poll, the Graham campaign said, “This poll is conducted entirely online and excludes the opinions of numerous voters, the results are far different than what our internal polling shows.” In contrast, a spokesperson for the Harrison campaign celebrated the poll and told WIS, “Lindsey Graham should be feeling the heat this summer, and he can no longer take the people of South Carolina for granted.”

For everyone skeptical of polling after the 2016 election Huffmon added that the national polls in 2016 were “dead on,” and explained, “they said Hillary Clinton would get between two and four percent more votes and she did,” Huffmon said noting Clinton’s advantage in the popular vote in 2016. “What was off was in the polls in about five states by about two points each,” he said while reiterating that every poll should be taken as one data point rather than an absolute prediction.

Huffmon also added that with 90 days out until election day, “things can change, everything will change.”

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