Hillary Clinton won the South Carolina Democratic primary on Saturday, registering her second straight win in the Democratic nominating contest and serving notice that Bernie Sanders could indeed be running into her firewall.
While the result wasn’t surprising, there was plenty going on beneath the topline numbers. Below, we break down some of the winners and losers.
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Hillary Clinton: No, this win was not unexpected, but it is still a win for Clinton – and it appears to be an absolute drubbing. She has now won two straight states, and she is clearly the momentum candidate heading into Super Tuesday – which is, after all, just three days away. The question from here is whether Clinton can begin to put the race away in short order or if Sanders can hang around somehow – despite increasingly daunting delegate math. That’s a far different conversation than we were having after Clinton got blown out in the New Hampshire primary two and a half weeks ago.
Black voters: Eight years after South Carolina sent Barack Obama further on his way to becoming the first black president, black voters sent a message Saturday that was loud and clear: We aren’t going anywhere. Early exit poll numbers suggest the black share of the electorate could hit a new record – about 6 in 10 voters in Saturday’s primary. That would exceed even the percentage in 2008, when the eventual first black president was on the ballot. That record turnout comes after a South Carolina campaign that was focused intently on wooing black voters – even more so than in 2008. The combination of those two things mean black voters just asserted themselves as a real force in 2016.
The media: We get a lot of guff when our analysis doesn’t match up with reality. (See: Trump, Donald.) But in South Carolina, the media theory that black voters represented some kind of “firewall” for Clinton got a big vote of confidence. In fact, we might even have understated it, for fear of missing a late Sanders surge among black voters. We’ve been surprised before, after all! Now, the black vote in other “firewall” states might not follow suit, but if it’s anywhere close, the firewall remains intact.
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Bernie Sanders: We pretty much knew this wasn’t going to be close, but it turned into a disaster for Sanders. Yes, it’s one state, but Sanders had one task here: To beat expectations when it comes to black voters. He didn’t do that — at all. He lost their votes a whopping 87-13, according to the most recent exit polls. A while back, a top Sanders adviser mused that he could win South Carolina with 30 percent of the black vote; that proved to be a foolhardy goal. And it’s not just that black voters like Clinton better; they didn’t seem to trust Sanders either. Just 52 percent said they would trust Sanders to handle race relations. Nearly 9 in 10 said the same of Clinton.
Given Super Tuesday is heavy on Southern states – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia – this is very troubling for Team Sanders. That’s four of the 12 states with the highest black populations. Louisiana follows four days later, and Mississippi will be March 15, alongside Michigan. Sanders can’t just cede all of these states and focus on the Northeast and the West.
Sanders’s single-minded income inequality message: Just 21 percent of voters in South Carolina said income inequality was their most important issue. About twice as many named the economy and jobs, while 22 percent said health care, and 10 percent said terrorism. Sanders needs more people to believe income inequality is Issue No. 1 for them – because it is for him.
Cable news: Look, this campaign has been great for the news business. It has big personalities (or rather, one big personality in particular), struggles for the souls of both major parties, and competitive primaries on both sides. What it has been short on, though, is election-night drama. Clinton’s win was called right as the polls were closing, just as Sanders’s win in New Hampshire was called immediately. The same has happened with Trump’s three straight blowout wins in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. The only dramatic election night, in fact, was the Iowa caucuses. Even Clinton’s not-huge win in Nevada was called before 6 p.m. Eastern time, thanks to the state’s afternoon caucuses. It’s been downright anti-climactic.
Young voters: 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.
Dick Harpootlian: This is what happens when you make irrational projections. Via Bloomberg on Wednesday:
[Former] Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian, an avowed Clinton opponent who endorsed Sanders, made an assertion Monday that no poll has supported: that Sanders would surprise everyone and come within single digits in the primary. On Tuesday, Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon on Tuesday seized on that prediction, writing in a posting on Twitter: “The man knows his state.”