South Carolinians have soured on Nikki Haley, turning the relatively new governor from a national tea party favorite into a chief executive struggling to maintain support among members of her own party, the latest Winthrop University poll shows.
Only 34.6 percent of those surveyed -- 1,073 registered S.C. Democrats, Republicans and independents -- said they approved of Haley's job performance, according to the poll.
Far more, 43 percent, said they disapprove of the way the Republican is handling her job as governor. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.
Haley's approval rating is lower than that of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, according to the poll. Obama has a 44.8 percent approval rating in strongly Republican South Carolina, according to the Winthrop poll.
"I'm not shocked at all," said Dick Harpootlian, chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party. "It's reflective of her disastrous first year as governor. I'm surprised 1 in 3 South Carolinians believe she's doing a good job. South Carolinians are waking up to the horrible mistake they made last year."
The Winthrop poll shows Haley rapidly is losing support among her fellow Republicans.
A slim majority of Republicans, 52.5 percent, approve of the way Haley is handling her job, but almost 22 percent of Republicans said they disapprove of her performance.
That compares with a 69.3 percent approval rating for Haley among Republicans and GOP-leaning voters only three months ago, according to a September Winthrop poll.
Haley's spokesman sought to brush off the bad poll numbers.
"Governor Haley is focused on adding to the 19,000 new jobs announced this year, fighting and winning for great South Carolina employers like Boeing, and keeping state spending down to responsible levels. Poll numbers don't enter into any of that," spokesman Rob Godfrey said.
However, poor poll numbers can diminish a governor's ability to influence state legislators, just as high numbers can increase a governor's political clout.
'A thousand cuts'
Scott Huffmon, a political science professor at Winthrop and the director of its poll, said Haley's biggest problems are tied to South Carolina's weak economy. South Carolina's jobless rate is one of the highest in the country.
"She is squarely taking the blame for the bad economy, but she has been suffering from a thousand cuts," Huffmon said. "Those things sort of eat away at her base by attrition."
While Haley's numbers are weak, they might not be as weak as they appear, Huffmon added.
Just over 20 percent of those polled said they had no opinion of Haley's performance. "Of those who have an opinion, her approval rating is 44.6 percent," Huffmon said.
Harpootlian said Haley's problems in South Carolina run far deeper than a bad economy.
South Carolinians have come to see Haley as dishonest and secretive, he said. "Why do you not use state e-mail and a state phone to conduct state business?" Harpootlian asked. "You do that because you don't want people to know what you're doing."
Haley campaigned on transparency, conducting state business in a way that is open to the public. But she has interpreted the state's open-records law in a way that allows for the deletion of public records.
Public record requests submitted to her office reveal scant few emails from Haley, and a recent request from The State newspaper found that Haley rarely used her state-issued cellphone.
The governor's office said Haley uses other methods of communication, including face-to-face meetings and her state office telephone.
Beyond the questions about how Haley conducts state business, other incidents have generated negative headlines for her.
Haley, the first female governor in state history, called Post and Courier reporter Renee Dudley a "little girl" after Dudley wrote a story on the cost of an economic-development trip Haley and other state officials took to Paris. The trip cost state taxpayers more than $127,000.
Haley later said she regretted calling Dudley a "little girl," but she did not apologize.
Haley, who has called for drug testing of those seeking unemployment benefits, also was unable to back up a claim she made that half of those who sought work at the U.S. Energy Department's Savannah River site failed drug tests, and the remaining half failed reading and writing tests.
Many state legislators, including Republicans, were sharply critical of Haley's opposition to tax breaks online retailer Amazon.com was promised in exchange for bringing 1,200 jobs to Lexington County.
Most recently, questions have arisen about Haley's role in the decision by an agency that she controls to allow a Georgia port to expand, after she received $15,000 in campaign donations at an Atlanta fundraiser. Haley said there was no connection.
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