Surprising no one, Hillary Clinton has won the South Carolina primary, according to NBC News and the Associated Press, who both called the race as soon as polls closed in the state. What was surprising was how much Clinton dominated rival Bernie Sanders, both demographically and ideologically. In all, Clinton took nearly three quarters of the vote (73.5 percent), a total that simply blew away the pre-vote polling averages, and her even-bigger-than-expected victory is yet another big setback for Sanders as Super Tuesday, with its crucial dozen contests, fast approaches.
Speaking at victory rally in the state on Saturday night, Clinton told supporters, “Tomorrow, this campaign goes national. We’re not taking anything and anyone for granted.” She also worked to frame her campaign in opposition to GOP front-runner Donald Trump, insisting that “more love and kindness” was what the country needed, and that, “We don’t need to make America again. America’s never stopped being great. But we do need to make America whole again. Instead of building walls we need to be breaking barriers.”
Perhaps the only bad news for Clinton in South Carolina was that turnout was, for the fourth contest in a row, significantly down from the 2008 cycle, and less than what the GOP got in the state — though it’s worth noting that low turnout may just be because Democrats are not actually paying much attention yet. Otherwise, ABC News exit polls indicated that some 60 percent of Democratic primary voters were black, up from the 55 percent record set in 2008, meaning Clinton’s firewall with those voters definitely held. In fact, exit polls suggest that Clinton’s black support surpassed Obama’s. Relatedly, around 80 percent of voters trusted Clinton to handle race relations, while about 60 percent trusted Sanders on the issue. Furthermore:
FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten sums the results up by noting that Sanders “needs a game-changer between now and Tuesday”:
According to the South Carolina exit poll, Sanders lost black voters 16 percent to 84 percent. That doomed him in a contest in which 62 percent of voters were black. If white voters were more supportive of his candidacy, Sanders might have been able to keep the race closer. But they split 58 percent for Sanders to 42 percent for Clinton. That’s simply not good enough to overcome Clinton’s advantage among black voters. It also makes the result among white voters in New Hampshire look more like an outlier compared to South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada. Maybe the Vermont senator had more of a next-door-neighbor advantage in New Hampshire than we initially thought.
Perhaps the most worrisome sign for Sanders is that the momentum he had heading into the first three contests seems to have been halted in South Carolina. Sanders was down 25 percentage points in the FiveThirtyEight South Carolina polling average a month ago, and it looks like he’s going to do even worse than that tonight.
And the future is unlikely to be any kinder to Sanders when you consider that black voters will make up a commanding proportion of Democratic voters in seven of the 12 states up for grabs on Super Tuesday — states that will account for more than two-thirds of the 880 delegates awarded on that day. (So far, the only decisive lead that Sanders has in a Super Tuesday contest is in his home state of Vermont.)
Another reason Sanders may not have done very well in South Carolina, according to ABC News: 70 percent of primary voters in the state wanted to “generally continue Obama’s policies,” and only 19 percent wanted to “change to more liberal policies.” In addition eight in ten said they would be satisfied with Clinton as the eventual nominee, versus six in ten for Sanders. Exit polls also showed there was no surge in young voters, a key Sanders constituency. On that note, the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake has now seen enough to serve some cold turkey to politicians:
At this rate, all future candidates might as well give up on trying to build a campaign around the support of young people. Despite tens of thousands of people showing up to Sanders rallies, and young people favoring him overwhelmingly so far, they just aren’t showing up to vote like he needs them to. Fewer than 1 in 6 voters in South Carolina were under the age of the 30. And it follows a pattern of young people just not giving Sanders the turnout he needs. In fact, young voters were less of the electorate there than in any of the first three states.
Increasingly, Sanders campaign seems to be hitting the brick wall of cold, hard math. Vox’s Matt Yglesias has more on that front:
To truly assess the state of the race, we need to assess the candidates’ performance relative to the demographics both of the states they’ve competed in, and the rest of the country. Nate Silver and the team at 538 help us do that by creating a demographics-based breakdown of how we would expect Clinton and Sanders to perform in each state if they tied 50:50 in a national primary. That tells us, for example, that if the race were tied naturally we would expect Clinton to win South Carolina by 20 points a big win, but smaller than the crushing 37 percent victory she actually scored.
By this metric, Clinton has outperformed her goal in every state.
The moral of the story is that while Sanders is certainly doing well enough to win many states in New England and on the plains, he is losing the election — perhaps more solidly than his supporters realize.
- Based on demographics alone, Iowa should have given Sanders a 19-percentage-point edge. They tied.
- Based on demographics alone, New Hampshire should have given Sanders a 32-point edge. He won by 22.
- Based on demographics alone, Nevada should have been a tie. Clinton won by 5.
Sanders released a statement congratulating Clinton after her win on Saturday, emphasizing to his supporters that, “Let me be clear on one thing tonight. This campaign is just beginning. We won a decisive victory in in New Hampshire. She won a decisive victory in South Carolina. Now it’s on to Super Tuesday. Our grassroots political revolution is growing state by state, and we won’t stop now.”
This post has been updated to incorporate additional commentary and analysis.