Lindsey Graham almost as unpopular in SC as Joe Biden, new poll shows

Republican U.S. Sen Lindsey Graham has something in common with President Joe Biden: increasing unpopularity among South Carolinians, according to a new poll.

When asked how satisfied they were with the way Graham and Biden are handling their jobs in Washington, 30% of South Carolina voters polled say they approve Graham’s performance, compared to 29% for Biden, according to the latest Winthrop University Poll. Since Winthrop’s last poll in May, Graham’s and Biden’s approval ratings have dipped by 2% and 1%, respectively.

“Graham’s approval ratings overall are nearly as bad as those for President Biden,” said the poll’s director, Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Winthrop. “This stems from only getting approval from half of his Republican base. Questions about Graham’s GOP base support are likely to fuel speculation that he may face a serious primary challenge in his next election.”

Indeed, South Carolina Congressman Ralph Norman, a Rock Hill Republican, is considered a likely challenger for Graham in the 2026 Republican primary, when Graham is up for reelection, Politico reported in July.

Broken down by political party, 49% of South Carolina Republicans polled approve of Graham, compared to 5% for Biden. And 18% of Democrats support Graham, compared to 72% for Biden.

Currently, it’s unclear weather Norman actually will throw his name in the hat in challenging Graham.

“Rep. Norman is not ruling anything out but has made no decisions yet on future elections,” Austin Livingston, communications director for Norman, said in an email to The State in July. “He remains firmly committed to serving South Carolina’s 5th district in the House, and doing everything within his ability to restore fiscal sanity and conservative values to Congress.”

Compared to his senior counterpart, South Carolina U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who’s seeking the Republican nomination for president, remains more popular with a 49% approval from voters and 72% among Republicans, according to the poll. Although Scott is generally more popular, some South Carolina voters — 23% — are still unsure about the junior senator.

With the GOP presidential primary less than five months away, other takeaways from the poll show former President Donald Trump maintaining his position as the front-runner for the 2024 presidential election among South Carolina voters, far ahead of former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and Scott.

“We continue to see Trump’s dominance for the nomination in South Carolina,” Huffmon said. “While a distant second, support for Nikki Haley has grown. Haley’s rise coincides with the continued slide of Ron DeSantis with his drop in national polls being mirrored in South Carolina.”

Even in light of multiple criminal indictments against the former president, half of South Carolina voters say they plan to support Trump in the Republican presidential primary in February, compared to 16% for Haley and 5% for Scott.

“While Haley is ascendant in the polls, Tim Scott remains in the single digits and is virtually tied with businessman Vivek Ramaswamy (polling at 5%),” Huffmon said. “Both Haley and Scott do a bit better when Republican-leaning Independents are included in the analysis. For both Haley and Scott, an appeal to conservative Independents may offer a path to higher support.”

Still, the Haley campaign remains optimistic.

“South Carolinians know how hard Nikki fought for taxpayers and jobs, and how she took on the establishment and won when she was governor,” said Haley spokesperson Ken Farnaso. “She takes nothing for granted but is confident she’ll do very well in South Carolina.”