With a lot of attention being paid to polls of Iowa voters, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that it’s just one state out of many early primary and caucus states. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is doing well there, at the moment, but if you look further down the calendar, there is one state which former vice president Joe Biden seems to own like a second home.
That state, of course, is South Carolina, where “Uncle Joe,” as some voters affectionately call him, is still leading handily by double digits despite his softened poll numbers elsewhere:
A new Quinnipiac University poll out of South Carolina has former Vice President Joe Biden leading the pack of 2020 Democratic contenders by 20 points.
Biden commanded the field at 33%, with Sens. Elizabeth Warren earning 13% and Bernie Sanders holding at 11%.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg received 6%, with businessmen Tom Steyer following at 5% and Andrew Yang at 4%. Sens. Kamala Harris received 3% and Cory Booker earned 2%.
No one else in the crowded primary field topped 1%.
For Biden to continue hanging in the low thirties is good news considering his support in other states has fallen much more than his support in South Carolina. If you look at the trend in the Palmetto State, Biden was previously hitting the high thirties and low forties quite regularly back in July and August. Since that time he’s lost a few percentage points but continues to maintain a convincing lead supported by African-American Democratic voters in the state.
“Unlike tight races in Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina has a clear frontrunner in the Democratic primary. Former Vice President Joe Biden has broad-based appeal, with particularly strong leads among black and moderate/conservative voters,” Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Mary Snow stated.
Moderate to conservative-leaning Democrats trending his way buoyed by strong black support has Biden sitting in a good position.
Quinnipiac isn’t the only pollster to show the same story in South Carolina. According to Politico, CBS/YouGov has similar numbers that show an even greater lead:
Another survey released Monday, from CBS News/YouGov, shows even stronger support from black voters in South Carolina. Biden receives more than half of his support from African-Americans and has 45 percent overall support.
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His next-closest opponents in South Carolina are Sen. Elizabeth Warren, at 17 percent, and Sen. Bernie Sanders at 15 percent in the CBS poll.
The forty-five percent number is paydirt for Biden as it closes in on getting half of the overall available support. That number is probably high as the safe bet is likely in the high thirties for a reasonable level of support right now. RealClearPolitics gives Biden 35% support on average at the moment in South Carolina, but 45% will help drive this narrative.
The race is still fluid, of course, and the debate on Wednesday could change the game depending on what Biden says and how he says it:
While Biden is benefitting from his status as vice president to the first black president, his longstanding ties to South Carolina and the attacks on his character by Donald Trump have also reinforced his position, according to state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Democrat from North Charleston who is neutral in the race and has hosted numerous candidates in his majority-black district.
“Ironically, Trump has helped Biden here,” Kimpson said.
Kimpson and the pollsters cautioned that the race is still fluid and anything can still happen. The surveys show that many voters have indicated they could switch their votes. There’s also a sizable pool of undecided voters, about a fifth of the state electorate
“If Biden goes into Atlanta in the debate this week and says something stupid, well, he can’t afford any major problems,” Kimpson said. [Emphasis added]
Biden’s risk always comes with the highly publicized, off the cuff moments such as his time on the debate stage. He can often meander from thought to thought, sometimes recalling details and stories which are tinged with racial politics of yesteryear. Still, though, many Democratic voters seem to like forgiving “Uncle Joe” because they trust his character.
Meanwhile, despite all the mediocre press recently and reports of other candidates surging, CNN is now asking whether Biden is currently underrated as a candidate:
Biden’s lasting strength in South Carolina and with black voters is mirrored in his improving performance in national 2020 polling as well. Biden was in danger of losing his edge over Warren in national 2020 surveys as recently as a few weeks ago. Now? He averages more than 7 points over Warren, according to the polling database maintained by Real Clear Politics.
To be clear: Biden is still not where he wants to be in Iowa or New Hampshire. And his fundraising needs to get drastically better. But his continued strength in South Carolina — and the persistence of support from black voters even amid online predictions of his imminent demise — suggest that Biden may have more strengths than he is getting credit for at the moment.
It is possible, with the given data of the moment, that Buttigieg could win Iowa, Sanders could win New Hampshire, Warren could win Nevada, and Biden could win South Carolina. The stars aligning to split the first four contests are unlikely, but still within the realm of possibility. The first two states, Iowa and New Hampshire, invariably end up affecting the later contests with Nevada as a wild card where gound organization is key.
Biden’s riding quietly through the campaign crazy season and he can continue hanging out for a while as analysts and pollsters question his strength. He’s still dominating South Carolina, and would likely show similar support in other southern and midwest states when the time comes.