S.C. Voters Like Stephen Colbert's Sister More Than Him

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 27 2013 11:05 AM

South Carolina Voters Like Elizabeth Colbert Busch More Than They Like Her Brother

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Stephen Colbert visits Late Night With Jimmy Fallon at Rockefeller Center on February 21, 2013 in New York City

Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

A new poll out yesterday from South Carolina's 1st congressional district suggests Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch has a legitimate shot to pull off a surprise victory in May's special election to fill Republican Tim Scott's old House seat. The survey from Democratic-leaning (although generally pretty reliable) Public Policy Polling shows Busch with a narrow two-point lead over former Gov. Mark Sanford, 47 percent to 45 percent, and tied, 43-43, with Curtis Bostic. Her lead over Sanford, the current favorite to land the GOP nomination, is within the poll's margin of error, but the simple fact that a Democrat is competitive in the dark red district is noteworthy. Here's the PPP pollsters with the analysis:

Focusing in on the potential race between Busch and Sanford it's surprisingly close for one simple reason—voters like Busch and they continue to strongly dislike Sanford. ... The big question for Sanford is whether the Republicans who don't like him—39% of them—will be willing to vote for him anyway in the general election. The undecideds in a Sanford/Busch race voted for Mitt Romney by a 77/12 margin in 2012 so they're an extremely GOP leaning group but because of their distaste for Sanford there's a chance that they'll vote for Busch or more likely just stay at home if Sanford is the candidate. If Sanford can up his share of the Republican vote in the general to 85% once he's the nominee that would probably be enough to put him over the top.
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Given how much has been made about how Busch is benefiting from the support of her better-known brother Stephen Colbert, the survey provides a few unexpected data points on that topic. The Comedy Central star actually fares worse than his sister when it comes to favorability ratings in the Palmetto State. Forty-five percent of respondents said they had a positive view of Busch, while only 36 percent said the same thing about Colbert. (Busch's unfavorable rating of 31 percent was only slightly higher than her brother's 27 percent, and within the MoE).

Perhaps more surprising is the fact that Busch also beats her brother when you look only at those respondents who said they voted for President Obama in last year's election, a group that you might expect to love a comedian known for lampooning conservatives. Among those voters, Busch boasted a rather remarkable 87-5 favorable-unfavorable rating, easily besting Colbert's 62-12 split. (Of course, the favorable-unfavorable dichotomy doesn't really do justice to Colbert's fundraising prowess, or his ability to generate press coverage for his sister when she first tossed here proverbial hat into the ring.)

The big wild card in the special election: Jenny Sanford, who is viewed positively by 55 percent of respondents, nearly 20 points higher than her ex-husband. An endorsement from Jenny would likely give the former governor a much-needed boost among Republican voters who have yet to forgive him for his make-believe hike on the Appalachian Trail, which as we explained earlier his month is probably the reason he tried to convince her to run his campaign.

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.