Nearly two-thirds of South Carolinians believe state government fails to do enough to stem domestic violence, which claimed nearly 400 lives in the state during the last 10 years, a Winthrop Poll released Wednesday shows.
However, men and women differed markedly when posed the same question in a different way. Asked if the state was doing enough to combat domestic violence, less than a quarter of the women, and more than a third of the men said "yes."
The vast majority of domestic violence victims are women, and the poll shows that men and women alike don't give state government much credit when it comes to handling women's issues.
Nearly half of those polled said state government is out of touch with the needs of most women. Only 37 percent said the government is in touch.
Nearly one in 10 said women face discrimination in South Carolina.
A special Statehouse committee is drafting legislation to improve the state's domestic violence laws. The committee was set up in August just days after an investigative series in The Post and Courier revealed that the state's laws often allow domestic abusers to avoid jail or prison sentences despite repeat offenses.
The series was reported after the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., released an annual survey revealing that South Carolina had the highest rate in the country of women killed by men, double the national rate.
Republican Rep. Shannon Erickson, of Beaufort, chairwoman of the Domestic Abuse Reform Committee, said she was not surprised by the level of popular support revealed in the poll. Her committee spent three days listening to testimony from the public, including many victims. She characterized that show of popular interest as "pretty significant."
Erickson said she knows strong resistance remains for some possible reforms, particularly from gun rights activists to a proposed firearms ban for convicted abusers.
"I'm hopeful we can make a substantial change, but I'm a realist," Erickson said. "Our General Assembly too often is willing to do the Band-Aid" rather than make substantive laws. "I'm trying not to be the Band-Aid committee."
The committee is resuming work Thursday on possible reforms to domestic violence sentencing provisions. The committee is expected to have legislation ready to introduce by the first day of the upcoming legislative session in January.
The Winthrop Poll has been produced by Winthrop University in Rock Hill since 2006. The polls are conducted periodically as a long-term effort to help public policymakers across the country understand "the attitudes and opinions of residents of South Carolina and 'The South' as a region."
The poll's architect, Scott Huffmon, a political science professor at Winthrop, also serves as director of the University's social and behavioral research lab.
Huffmon said the question about whether the state is doing enough to combat domestic abuse is the first time the poll has broached the issue. The response will serve as a baseline for future questions on the issue, he said.
The poll surveyed 852 state residents by telephone between Nov. 9-16. The margin of error is about 3.4 percent.
Among the poll's other findings:
More than half, or 52 percent, believe the national economy is getting better, while 42 percent believe the economy will get worse. South Carolina's prospects fared better, with 68 percent saying economic conditions are improving.
A little more than half of those surveyed believe that the sea levels are rising. Seventy-five percent think that state and local governments in coastal communities, including Charleston, need to do more to prepare.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott's recent victory in this month's election seems to have convinced a lot more people that he's the man for the job. The Republican vaulted from a 36 percent approval rating in Winthrop's April poll to a 58 percent approval rating.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Gov. Nikki Haley and the state Legislature also benefited from some post-election optimism. More than half, 53 percent, approve of Haley's job performance, 45 percent approve of the Legislature, and about 50 percent approve of Graham.
With the all-important retail season about to be in full swing, more than half of those surveyed said they would spend about the same this year as last year on gifts. About 16 percent said they planned to spend more and 26 percent said they would spend less.
South Carolinians surveyed rank jobs and unemployment the most important issue in the state. Education, the economy and politicians and government follow in that order.
Just 6 percent of those surveyed said they were members of the tea party. However, 23 percent approve of what the tea party stands for and 45 percent have no opinion. More Republicans and Republican-leaning independents identified with the tea party than in previous polls.