Barack Obama's not popular in South Carolina but he could have a shot at winning the state next year anyway if Republicans nominate one of their weaker candidates.
Only 43% of voters in the state approve of the job Obama's doing to 53% who disapprove. His numbers show the massive racial divide you might expect- 94% of African Americans approve of the job he's doing but only 24% of whites do. If he had even a 30% approval rating with white voters he'd be in pretty decent standing in the state, but that's a lot easier said than done.
Despite Obama's unpopularity only one of his potential opponents for next year has a clear lead over him in the Palmetto State. That's Mitt Romney, who's ahead of Obama by a 50/41 margin. The only other Republican we tested who leads Obama is Jim DeMint, but the home state senator's margin is a narrow one at 47-44. Beyond that Obama fights Tim Pawlenty to a tie at 42%, leads Newt Gingrich 46-44, is up 43-40 on Herman Cain, and has a 48-43 advantage over Sarah Palin.
Much has been written about the weakness of the Republican candidate field and Obama's competitiveness in South Carolina is very emblematic of that: voters don't like him but in many cases they like the GOP alternatives even less. Romney is the most popular of the contenders likely to run in the state but even he has slightly net negative favorability numbers with 40% of voters expressing a positive opinion of him to 42% with a negative one. Cain's favorability spread is -9 (26/35), Pawlenty's is -17 (22/39), Palin's is -19 (37/56), and Gingrich's is -27 (26/53).
DeMint is actually the most popular politician in the state with his 47/34 approval spread far outpacing those of Obama, fellow Senator Lindsey Graham, and Governor Nikki Haley. We have found in polling in the past though that South Carolinians would rather DeMint remained in the Senate than run for President and that probably explains why the head to head between him and Obama is so close despite his superior popularity.
This is the first state we've polled with a large black population since we began including Herman Cain in all of our general election match ups. Any thought that he might be able to cut into Obama's strength with African American voters can probably be thrown out- his favorability with them is 12/52 and he trails Obama 93-4 in a head to head.
Realistically Obama could probably only win South Carolina if the GOP ended up nominating Palin or Gingrich. But these numbers are another indication that Obama's going to outrun his approval numbers if the Republicans put up a really weak candidate.
Full results here