U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s popularity among South Carolinians has taken a steady dip in recent months, further indicating voters may be willing to look elsewhere next year.

Among the Winthrop Poll political findings:

47 percent of South Carolinians blame Republicans in Congress for the recent government shutdown. Nearly 29 percent blame President Barack Obama. About 20 percent blame them equally.

Approval ratings for the president and Congress decreased to their lowest numbers yet in S.C. Obama is at 41 percent; Congress is in low single digits at 7 percent.

Nearly three-in-four of all respondents also disapprove of the way Republicans in Congress are doing their job, while 61 percent disapprove of the job Democrats are doing.

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley has ticked up in approval ratings since the February Winthrop Poll, to 44 percent among all residents and 45 percent among registered voters.

Haley garners a higher approval rating — 66 percent, versus 20 percent who disapprove of her job performance — among those who say they are Republicans.

Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham saw his approval rating drop from the February Winthrop Poll, from 72 percent among Republicans and those independents who lean toward the GOP to 45 percent. Among registered voters, his approval rating is 37 percent.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who was appointed by Gov. Haley to fill in for Jim DeMint after he resigned, “remains a mystery to many residents,” the poll said. Nearly a third of residents are unsure of him. Scott has a 54 percent approval rating in his own Republican Party, while 29 percent of them are not sure about him.

Support for the tea party movement among the GOP and “leaners” remains about the same since the February Winthrop Poll. Among S.C. residents, only 28 percent view it in a positive light.

Fewer respondents think the country is on the right track (17 percent) compared with those who say it is headed in the wrong direction (75 percent).

The four most important problems facing the country are, in order: politicians/government, economy or financial crisis, budget deficit or debt, and jobs/unemployment.

* The results are based on interviews with 887 respondents living in South Carolina Oct. 19-27. The margin of error of approximately +/- 3.3%, giving a 95 percent confidence level. To view online, go to: http://www.winthrop.edu/winthroppoll/default.aspx?id=9804

Meanwhile, Gov. Nikki Haley’s approval rating has “ticked up” slightly since February — to nearly 45 percent among all registered voters — though pollsters warn it is far too early to read much into the numbers.

More poll results: Learn why medical marijuana might be on the horizon in S.C., and what respondents thought about certain social and racial issues. In South, B1

The results come from a Winthrop University poll released Wednesday that surveyed the attitudes of nearly 900 residents in the aftermath of the 16-day partial federal government shutdown.

The most noticeable downward trend showed the approval ratings for Graham, R-S.C., has fallen off significantly with three other but lesser-known GOP challengers waiting in the wings.

As recently as February, the state’s senior senator carried a 72 percent approval level among both Republicans and conservative independents who lean toward the GOP. That’s fallen to a 45 percent approval rating today — a 27 percent drop that places him below the more ideal 50 percent threshold.

Winthrop political scientist Scott Huffmon, who conducted the poll, said Graham’s numbers are most indicative of a retreat by his core supporters, raising the chance of a growing level of vulnerability.

But Huffmon added there’s a big difference between being vulnerable “and being in trouble.”

“The question is: Can any of his opponents take advantage of that opening?” Huffmon said. “He has a giant war chest and all the advantages of incumbency. It’s not a statement of dire trouble at this stage.”

Graham’s three announced challengers all are seeing early tea party-type support but otherwise have amassed little in terms of campaign cash or political name identification. They include state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg; Upstate businessman Richard Cash; and Nancy Mace of Berkeley County, first female graduate of The Citadel’s Corps of Cadets.

Graham’s campaign said Wednesday they were not dwelling on poll numbers.

“Lindsey Graham is focused on stopping Obamacare, which is proving to be an absolute disaster, and getting to the bottom of what actually happened in Benghazi,” said campaign spokesman Tate Zeigler. “He’s not following poll numbers for an election almost a year away.”

Beyond the Senate race, Huffmon said Haley’s numbers could be interpreted mainly as stable, with Huffmon saying most state voters aren’t paying much attention to a race still more than a year off.

“It really doesn’t say anything about the Sheheen-Haley election,” Huffmon said. “She isn’t more popular. She isn’t less popular. People just don’t have their antennae up yet.”

Haley faces Vincent Sheheen, a Democratic state senator from Camden, in a rematch of the 2010 governor’s race. Sheheen’s standing among state residents was not included as a subject of the poll.

Both sides issued statements Wednesday spinning the results.

“This makes three polls in one week showing that Nikki Haley’s continued economic failures and incompetence leave her deeply unpopular in South Carolina,” said Kristin Sosanie, communications director for the S.C. Democratic Party.

“Under Nikki Haley, median income is falling, South Carolina has been named one of the hardest places to earn a living and achieve the American dream. Millions of families and businesses had their personal information hacked and stolen, then the Governor chose to cover it up for more than two weeks. After three years of being left behind, South Carolina’s families and businesses have had it with Nikki Haley and are ready for new leadership.”

Haley’s campaign countered, “Every recent poll — including the bogus Democratic poll they pushed out — shows Gov. Haley ahead of liberal Democrat Vince Sheheen,” said campaign spokesman Rob Godfrey.

“But the only numbers the governor cares about are the results the administration is delivering to the people of our state: more than 39,000 jobs announced, $9 billion investment, unemployment hitting a five year low, $1 billion to strengthen our roads and bridges, without raising taxes, and more than 18,000 people transitioned from welfare to work.

“Once voters learn more about Vince’s strong support for Obamacare, and his record of backing higher taxes and bigger government, the gap between the candidates will widen even further.”

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.