South Carolinians say state economy better than nation’s

rburris@thestate.comDecember 6, 2012 

— Nearly half of South Carolinians think economic conditions in the state are getting better and more than half are at least somewhat happy with their personal financial situations, a new poll shows.

But uncertainty about what will happen in Washington in the waning days of 2012 is dragging them down.

Their optimism was registered in the new Winthrop poll in which 49 percent of all respondents said the Palmetto State’s economy is getting better. Less than a third, 32 percent, said they think it is getting worse.

But South Carolinians were not so optimistic about the national economy, the poll shows, amid daily news buzz about an economic stalemate known as the fiscal cliff. If Congress and the White House don’t come to a compromise before the end of the year, $1.2 trillion in spending cuts will kick in next year even as tax credits expire. Some fear the combination could plunge the country back into recession.

Almost 30 percent of those polled in the Winthrop survey, taken Nov. 25-Dec. 2, said the most important problem facing the United States today is the economy, driven by financial crisis concerns.

“I’m OK – right now, but I’m worried nationally,” is the sentiment of the 969 people polled, said Scott Huffmon, Winthrop University professor and poll manager. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the economic category of the survey.

“It’s a complex tapestry, but I think you’re seeing people who think, ‘I’m OK; I think my state is doing OK. I am, however, worried about the implications of this fiscal cliff, which I don’t fully understand, and that uncertainty makes me worry.’ ”

When asked what the most important problem is facing South Carolina today, the largest response, 22 percent, said the answer is jobs or unemployment. But that percentage is down significantly since February’s poll, when 37 percent listed jobs as the top concern.

“That’s the No. 1 thing in people’s minds,” Huffmon said Wednesday after the poll’s release. “Everybody wants to know that they have a job, their job is secure, and their neighbors have jobs.

“Nationally, the talk is all over the map about what the fiscal cliff might mean. Could it push us back into a recession? What’s gonna happen? Will our (U.S.) bonds get downgraded, then that have a huge impact on our national economy?” Huffmon said.

The national economy, driven by financial crisis concerns, was the second-highest response to the question, “what is the most important problem facing South Carolina?”

Still, in the latest poll, 53 percent of respondents said their personal financial situations were improving, the same percentage that responded that way in April. Nearly half – 49 percent – rated the South Carolina economy as at least fairly good, up from 48 percent in April and 38 percent in February’s poll.

Huffmon said Gov. Nikki Haley’s practice of heralding most new plant openings and job additions likely contributes to people feeling more stable and confident about their local economy.

“A poll is a snapshot,” Huffmon said, adding that the more than 50 percent in the poll who feel good about their personal finances is significant, but fragile.

“If you combine good and excellent, you’ve basically got half the population saying it’s at least good, and getting better. So these are people who feel stable.

“Any time there is uncertainty, folks even if they’re in an OK position right now, they’re not going to say, ‘I’m in a good position,’ because they fear that it could all fall out tomorrow,” Huffmon said.

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