ROCK HILL -- Joe Biden remains the top choice for South Carolina voters for the Democratic Party presidential nominee but other candidates are gaining ground and nearly 1 in 5 likely voters is still undecided, according to the latest Winthrop Poll.
Given the margin of error, the former vice president's lead of 24% to Sanders’ 19% may be scant indeed.
South Carolinians head to the polls on Feb. 29 to participate in the Democratic Party presidential primary. Voters in the Palmetto State do not register by party.
A fourth of those surveyed in this most recent Winthrop Poll said they were leaning toward voting for Biden. Of the African American voters contacted, Biden had even higher numbers, at 31%.
Other candidates planning to run in the S.C. primary with support were U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, 19%; billionaire businessman Tom Steyer, 15%; former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 7%; and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 6%. The remaining two candidates fell under 5%. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not on the S.C. ballot.
Winthrop Poll Director Dr. Scott Huffmon said, “Flames seem to be licking through the cracks in Biden’s firewall. His support has dropped by double digits since the late September Winthrop Poll. Without a strong showing in South Carolina, Biden’s campaign will be limping into Super Tuesday (March 3).
"Even a win, if not significant and decisive, will be interpreted as a loss by his opponents. Bernie Sanders, now second behind Biden, has more than doubled his support, both overall and among African American voters. With roughly one-fifth of voters remaining undecided, election day could hold some surprises.
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"Elizabeth Warren has dropped by nearly 10 points since late September. One of the most significant movements came from Tom Steyer, whose ad blitz in the state took him from an unknown 2% in the late September Winthrop Poll to 15% now.”
South Carolina is important in the presidential process because it is the first primary in the South and because it is the first time presidential candidates can be vetted by large numbers of African-American voters.
A little more than half surveyed by the Winthrop Poll said they were sure of their choice. Yet 43% of respondents said they might change their mind.
Eighty percent of poll respondents said they would vote in November for the party’s nominee, while 85% of African American voters said they would.
Nearly half of poll respondents (44%) said their primary objective was to beat President Donald Trump, while nearly an equal number (45%) said it was key for the Democratic nominee to share their views.
The Winthrop Poll found that it made little difference to S.C. voters for a candidate to be either openly gay or a woman. Voters, particularly African-American voters, were more hesitant to support candidates who did not reflect the diversity of their political party.
For this latest Winthrop Poll, callers spoke to 443 likely voters for the Feb. 29 S.C. Democratic presidential primary. Phone calls were made Feb. 9-19 primarily during weekday evenings, all day Saturday, and Sunday afternoon and evening and were made in English.
Results have a margin of error of +/- 4.7% at the 95% confidence level. Results that use all only African American respondents have a margin of error of +/- 5.9% at the 95% confidence level.
The Winthrop Poll is paid for by Winthrop University. It is one of 18 threshold polls chosen by the Democratic National Committee to determine who among the two dozen 2020 presidential candidates qualify for debates.
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