WASHINGTON – For Gov. Nikki Haley, Mark Sanford isn’t proving a very tough act to follow – at least in the court of public opinion.
Haley, inaugurated last month as South Carolina’s first female governor, tallies a plus-12 in approval vs. disapproval ratings, with a 36-24 percent margin in a new survey by a Raleigh, N.C., polling firm.
Forty percent of the state’s voters – those who say they went to the polls last November – don’t know Haley well enough to judge her performance, according to the survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-affiliated firm.
“We’re always happy to know that South Carolinians think Nikki is doing a good job, but our primary focus is on governing rather than polls,” said Rob Godfrey, Haley’s press secretary. “We know there are many difficult governing decisions to make in the weeks and months ahead.”
Haley fares even better with self-described independent voters, 37 percent of whom approve of her brief tenure and 21 percent disapproving.
Haley’s outcome places her at No. 11 among 39 governors about whom Public Policy Polling has conducted surveys in the last year.
Sanford, by contrast, has sinking numbers.
The ex-governor scores a minus-10 rating, with only 39 percent of South Carolinians approving of his eight-year performance at the helm of state government and 49 percent disapproving.
Those numbers are down significantly from the results of a survey last October by Winthrop University, in which 69 percent of Sanford’s constituents gave him a grade of “C” or better.
The new survey figures point to continuing fallout for Sanford over his romance with Maria Belen Chapur, an Argentine former TV reporter.
Public Policy Polling conducted its survey of 1,167 voters Jan. 28-30. Its polling began the day after a recent photo of the couple went viral online, showing Sanford on the beach with the bikini-clad Chapur.
Sanford’s secret tryst with Chapur in June 2009, when he disappeared for six days as governor, became an international scandal and led to then-First Lady Jenny Sanford’s divorce from him a year ago.
Sen. Lindsey Graham scores a plus-3 in the same poll, with 40 percent of South Carolinians approving of the second-term senator’s performance and 37 percent disapproving.
Graham’s standing among Democrats is among the strongest of all Republican senators, with 31 percent in the state approving of his performance.
Forty-three percent of South Carolina’s GOP voters back Graham, while 36 percent disapprove of his performance.
Those figures indicate Graham would be virtually unbeatable in the 2014 general election – but could be vulnerable in the Republican primary.
Graham has a 39 percent approval rating with self-described liberals, but only a 32 percent rating with voters who say they’re conservative.
South Carolina voters have different assessments of the work of Gov. Nikki Haley, ex-Gov. Mark Sanford and Sen. Lindsey Graham: