WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden has for weeks looked to the black voters of South Carolina to hand a win to his flagging campaign. On Saturday, they delivered.
Biden won about half the votes cast by African Americans, dominating a crowded Democratic field with a group that can make up more than half the Democratic electorate. He also performed strongly with older voters and self-described moderates.
That’s according to AP VoteCast, a wide-ranging survey of more than 1,400 voters in South Carolina’s Democratic primary.
Biden, who served under President Barack Obama, staked his campaign on the legacy of the nation’s first nonwhite president. That message carried special appeal in South Carolina, where voters held a greater sense of nostalgia for the Obama presidency than voters in earlier contests.
About 4 in 10 voters in South Carolina wanted to return to the politics of the past, compared to about a third in Iowa and New Hampshire. That includes the roughly 50% of African American voters who said they want a Democratic presidential nominee who would emulate Obama’s presidency. Overall, Biden won about half of voters who preferred a return to politics before President Donald Trump.
South Carolina’s primary provides the first deep look at the opinions and beliefs of African American voters, who have historically made up more than half of that state’s Democratic voters and will continue to wield influence in upcoming races. The inability of Democrats to mobilize African Americans in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan likely contributed to their 2016 loss to Trump.
Nearly 7 in 10 South Carolina voters identified as conservative or moderate, while just about 3 in 10 considered themselves to be liberal. Biden won support from about 4 in 10 moderate and conservative voters, a group that has previously been split among Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Among self-described liberals, 4 in 10 backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had been leading the pack after previous contests. To a lesser extent, liberals went for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Health care was the leading issue among the state’s Democratic voters, with about 4 in 10 calling it most important. These voters were roughly split between Biden and Sanders on who could best address the issue as president.
Twenty-one percent viewed the economy as the top priority, while 14% identified climate change. Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire put greater emphasis on climate change and less importance on the economy.
South Carolina Democrats were also slightly more likely to identify race relations as the top issue, compared to previous states. Nearly a third of voters said that Biden would be strongest as president in addressing issues related to race.
About 6 in 10 voters said they support reparations for slavery, an issue that revealed a sharp racial divide. African Americans were vastly more supportive of compensation than white voters. About 8 in 10 black voters support the government making cash payments to people whose ancestors and relatives were enslaved, compared to just about a third of white voters.
Roughly three-quarters of all South Carolina voters favored reforming the criminal justice system to reduce the emphasis on policing and incarceration for low-level offenses. Majorities of white and black voters expressed support.