S.C. poll: Republicans like Walker, Bush; split on businesses refusing gays, lesbians

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker

South Carolina Republicans are picking Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for president, and are near evenly divided on whether businesses should be allowed to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers.

The latest survey by Winthrop University of state attitudes shows 44 percent of those questioned say that businesses should be allowed to refuse service based on sexual preference, while about 50 percent thought the opposite.

The question came as Indiana and Arkansas drew national attention earlier this spring over religious freedom legislation that critics said had the effect of allowing businesses to refuse to serve gays and lesbians based on an owner’s beliefs. Lawmakers in both states have since backed away from the controversial wording.

Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said the results here show that South Carolina’s electorate continues to be strongly tied to matters of faith when picking their candidates and choosing social patterns.

“Speaking of religion, 44.4 percent of respondents believe evangelical Christians have too little influence in the Republican Party today,” Huffmon said. “A third thought it was the right amount.”

The question on serving gay customers was one of more than two dozen questions asked by the university in the poll of Republican-leaning voters. The school regularly polls in the state on attitudes, political leaders and current events.

In regard to the presidential primary race, native son and current U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham is in fourth-place among GOP voters — raising the possibility that he would not win his own state’s primary if he gets in the race. The latest snapshot has Walker leading with 13.6 percent, followed by Bush at 12.7 percent.

Walker and Bush made recent trips to the state, but have not formally declared as candidates.

Rounding out the top five are Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, 8.1 percent; Graham, 7.6 percent; and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, 6.2 percent.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Bush had the most “potential” support, based on questions of who voters would consider for the top post, Huffmon said.

Huckabee also continues to fare well among voters who identify themselves as evangelicals.

“Those who approve of the tea party can see themselves supporting Cruz more than any other candidate at this stage,” Huffmon added.

The Winthrop Poll surveyed 956 residents in South Carolina by landline and cellphone between April 4-12. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.2% at the 95 percent confidence level, according to Huffmon.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551