Clinton Hit All Her Marks in South Carolina; Sanders Hit Almost None of His

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Hillary Clinton Hosts Primary Night Event In Columbia, South Carolina
The victory speech in Charleston.Photo: Win McNamee/2016 Getty Images

If the ability to break through among minority voters is the key to Bernie Sanders’s winning the Democratic nomination, there was no good news for him from South Carolina tonight. According to exit polls, African-Americans constituted a record 61 percent of voters, and Hillary Clinton won an astonishing 84 percent of them. That’s six points better than Barack Obama did there in 2008. In some demographics, Clinton’s vote was virtually unanimous: She reportedly won African-Americans over 65 by a 96-to-3 margin. Her overall 73.5 percent comfortably exceeds Bernie Sanders’s much-ballyhooed 60 percent in New Hampshire earlier this month. The states rolling up on the calendar, especially on March 1, mostly look more like South Carolina than they do New Hampshire. 

Sanders did continue to win white voters (58 to 42) and under-30 voters (63-37), though the latter margin is his lowest yet among the young. He and HRC were even among white women, and Sanders did not seem to have any special appeal to non-college-educated white voters (he won white college graduates by a slightly higher percentage). Clinton handily won every ideological category, including self-described “very liberal” voters, and beat Sanders among “moderates” nearly three to one. 

Although this was an open primary (actually, South Carolina has no party registration), only 18 percent of voters were self-identified independents (Sanders won 62 percent of them), and only 15 percent were first-time Democratic primary voters (Sanders won 70 percent of them). In general, Clinton hit all her marks and Sanders hit few of his own. The polls showing a late trend towards Clinton if anything underestimated its speed. 

The results leave little hope for Sanders other than slow delegate accumulation in such Super Tuesday states as Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. He’ll obviously win Vermont; he has a good chance in Massachusetts, might do well in Colorado and Minnesota, and might exceed expectations in Oklahoma. But the magic from the Granite State has worn off, and with it the idea that, as minority voters became more familiar with Bernie, they’ll trend his way, too. As Nate Cohn of the New York Times pointed out on Twitter, Sanders would need to win Latinos by the same 2-1 margin Clinton enjoyed in 2008 to make up for the margins she’s achieving among black voters. That seems improbable, to put it mildly, and I strongly suspect we’ll find out in Texas next Tuesday that he’s not going to carry the Latino vote at all.

The Bern may return in full force in some heavily white caucuses on March 5 (Kansas and Nebraska), March 6 (Maine), and March 26 (Alaska and Washington), but by then we may all be talking about when, rather than whether, Hillary Clinton wins the nomination.