Just before Tea Party heartthrob Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) announced that he would be leaving the U.S. Senate in January to head up the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, a new poll released Wednesday showed support was weak for the Tea Party in the outgoing senator's home state.
The data came from the Winthrop Poll, whose studies on voter beliefs in South Carolina and the South are often cited during election seasons. Conducted Nov. 25 through Dec. 2 and drawing from 929 adult respondents around the state on both landlines and cellphones, the poll gives us a glimpse of who's hot and who's not in our fair state. As they say in juicy gossip columns, here's the dish:
• About 53 percent of those polled said Newt Gingrich would have fared as well as or better than Mitt Romney in the presidential election against Barack Obama. (But it's worth remembering that ol' Newt only won two states in the primary. One was South Carolina; the other was his home state of Georgia.)
• 30 percent said the most important problem facing the United States was the economy or the economic crisis, compared to 15 percent who picked the budget deficit or debt, 12 percent who said jobs or unemployment, and 9 percent who said politicians or government.
• Almost a month after Barack Obama won re-election, 48 percent said they approve of the way he is handling his job as president, while 41 percent said they disapprove, 8.9 percent are not sure, and 1.9 percent refused to answer the question.
• Nearly half of respondents said they think economic conditions in South Carolina are getting better. Let's hope so. According to seasonally adjusted figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in November, the Palmetto State is tied with Oregon for the 12th-highest unemployment rate in the country (8.6 percent).
• Only one in 20 respondents (5 percent) said they were members of the Tea Party, and 67 percent of respondents said they either disapprove of (34 percent) or are not familiar with (33 percent) the movement. You read that right: One-third of South Carolinians don't know about the Tea Party.
• Only 38 percent said they approve of the way Nikki Haley is handling her job as governor. Her approval rating was slightly higher among registered voters (40 percent) and much higher among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (62 percent).
• More than three in four said they disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job.
• Slightly more than half of respondents said the United States of America is headed in the wrong direction.