Poll gauges views of state residents

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COLUMBIA - Looking only at the bottom line, everything is just status quo.

A new Winthrop University/ETV poll shows that, among likely primary voters, Hillary Clinton leads the Democrats and Republicans Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney and Giuliani virtually tied, with Mr. Thompson taking a slight lead (17.9 percent to Mr. Romney and Mr. Giuliani's 16.5 percent).

Winthrop political scientists said the Republican race is a statistical dead heat, but shows good news for Mr. Thompson, who came to the race late but with great fanfare.

But look beyond the rat-race numbers, and the poll gives insight into what issues South Carolinians are thinking about.

1. Honesty trumps everything.

Asked what characteristic was most important to them in picking a candidate, respondents chose honesty over either experience or knowledge/intelligence by greater than a 2:1 margin.

2. Just over 29 percent in each party are undecided on a candidate. But that's not necessarily bad news for Mrs. Clinton, who received 33 percent of Democrats' vote in the poll, Dr. Scott Huffmon said.

Conventional wisdom says that, by now, everyone knows her and if they don't like her now, they probably won't change their minds, he said. But, the flip side of everyone knowing Mrs. Clinton is that everyone prone to dislike her already does, so those remaining undecideds could still be swayed into her camp, he said.

3. Candidates' spouses have a greater impact on how Democrats vote than Republicans. Among Democrats, 24 percent said the spouse mattered. Only 14.8 percent of Republicans felt that way.

4. Religion is important to Democrats and Republicans. Among Republicans, 78.2 percent said religion is very important in their lives; 74.7 percent of Democrats said the same.

5. They are different, after all. For those who see no real differences between the two parties:

- 26.4 percent of Republicans said shared values was the most important characteristic they look for in a candidate, compared to 12.3 percent for Democrats, whose second choice behind honesty was knowledge/intelligence.

- 87.9 percent of Democrats disapprove of the job Mr. Bush is doing, versus 23.4 percent of Republicans.

- 33.8 percent of Democrats who voted for Mr. Bush in 2004 regret their vote, compared with 6.7 of Republicans.


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