As long as the Republicans nominate one of their co-front runners, Mitt Romney or Rick Perry, they're likely to keep South Carolina in their column pretty easily next year. That's no surprise. What makes the Presidential numbers in the Palmetto State more interesting though is that despite Perry being the overwhelming favorite of Republican primary voters in the state, Romney actually does 7 points better than him against Barack Obama.
Romney leads Obama by 15 points, 53-38, while Perry's lead is only 8 points, at 49-41. They win Republicans by almost identical margins- 91-4 for Romney and 89-4 for Perry. And they lose Democrats by pretty identical margins too- an 88-9 deficit for Perry, an 86-10 one for Romney. But the real disparity is with independent voters. Romney leads Obama by 16 points with them, 44-28. Perry wins them only narrowly by 3 points at 37-34. This has been a theme in our recent polling. GOP voters like Perry better than Romney. But independents are a lot more willing to vote for Romney than Perry. In a state like South Carolina the 7 point difference between how Perry and Romney fare in the general doesn't matter that much. In the Floridas and Ohios and Virginias of the world it matters a lot. It's going to be interesting to see whether the gap continues and whether Romney has any luck making an electability argument with Republicans voters if it does.
Obama's actually pretty competitive with the other three Republicans we tested head to head with him in South Carolina. He ties Sarah Palin at 45% and ties Michele Bachmann at 44% as well, while trailing Newt Gingrich by only a single point at 45-44. He leads all 3 of them by double digits with independent voters.
Obama is not remotely popular in South Carolina- a 41% approval rating with 56% of voters disapproving of him. But he's competitive with that second tier of Republican hopefuls because they're pretty unpopular themselves. Bachmann's favorability spread is 34/43 and Palin at 36/56 and Gingrich at 27/53 are a whole lot worse off than that.
Just for fun we also decided to take a look at how home state hero Stephen Colbert would do in an independent bid for President. Tested in a three way he polls at 12% compared to 43% for Perry and 36% for Obama. Colbert does particularly well with independents, actually edging out Obama 24-22 and trailing Perry's 27% by only a small margin. Colbert has a positive 33/22 favorability rating with independents, quite a contrast to Perry's 31/38 and Obama's 34/53 approval with them. Independents are pretty disgusted with all politicians right now and Colbert's strong standing with them is symbolic of that.
Full results here