The South Carolina primary results in which Joe Biden won easily with 48% of the vote, with Bernie Sanders trailing far behind with just 20%, was a boost to those in the political and media establishment who have been in a panic over Sanders’ earlier successes. The establishment especially took heart from the fact that black voters, a major constituency of the Democratic party, overwhelmingly supported Biden over Sanders by a margin of 61% to 17%. The only group that Sanders won was black voters under 30. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, James Carville, and Terry McAuliffe gloated over this result, arguing that this lack of black support alone should doom the Sanders candidacy. But does it?
Nausicaa Renner, Aida Chavez and Akila Lacey argue that South Carolina may not be representative of the nation at large.
Last week, the Reuters/Ipsos poll found Sanders besting Biden by 3 percentage points nationally among black voters — certainly a relevant data point when considering whether Sanders can win among black voters. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found Biden up 2 percentage points among black voters, while the Hill/HarrisX poll had Sanders up by 9. A Morning Consult survey recently found Sanders beating Biden by 5 points among all black primary voters, and thumping him by a 3-1 margin among black voters under 45.
So did the South Carolina results reflect a sudden and major shift in black voter preferences? Or were there other factors at work that made it an outlier?
A handful of commentators, including former Sen. Claire McCaskill, a vituperative opponent of Sanders, acknowledged that South Carolina’s results may not necessarily translate into victory for Biden nationwide. “Unfortunately,” said McCaskill on MSNBC, “there aren’t a lot of Jim Clyburns.” Clyburn, an iconic civil rights leader and the uncontested party leader in South Carolina, as well as the number three Democrat in the House, endorsed Biden last week, giving his campaign the kind of boost that can’t be replicated elsewhere.
There are other reasons to suspect that Biden’s campaign won’t be able to sustain its high note after South Carolina. The state is one of the demographically oldest. According to CNN exit polls, 6 percent of voters were between the ages of 17 and 24, and 5 percent were between the ages of 25 and 29. Around 28 percent of voters in South Carolina were under age 45, compared to 45 percent in Iowa, 35 percent in New Hampshire, and 36 percent in Nevada.
What’s more, Biden spent an enormous proportion of his resources in South Carolina, which he hasn’t done in Super Tuesday states or beyond, and is running low on cash.
Tomorrow’s Super Tuesday results in 16 races should clarify the picture considerably, since there are many states with sizable fractions of black and Latino voters.