Former Vice President Joe Biden looms over the field of 2020 Democrats in South Carolina thanks in part to his advantage among black voters.
Biden, who has struggled to explain his relationship with segregationists and opposition to busing, still dominates the presidential race in the Palmetto State, according to a new poll released by Monmouth University on Thursday.
South Carolina is considered one of the most important states in the early nominating contest because of its position on the primary calendar, right before Super Tuesday, and its heavily African American electorate.
The results show Biden taking first place with 39 percent — an advantage of 27 points over his nearest challenger — when polled against the rest of the field. Far behind in second place was Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) with 12 percent. Closely trailing Harris, albeit within the margin of error, were Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) at ten and nine percent, respectively. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg lodged in fifth place with five percent. Surprisingly, the poll found billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, a recent addition to the race, tied with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) at two percent. The rest of candidates polled at either one percent or lower.
Apart from measuring outright support, the poll also rated all of the 25 candidates running in terms of favorability. Biden also topped his fellow White House hopefuls by having the overall most positive rating with 79 percent of respondents viewing him favorably, compared to only nine percent unfavorably. Warren followed with a favorability rating of 67 percent to seven percent unfavorable. Sanders, who lost South Carolina overwhelmingly in 2016, also had a favorable rating of 67 percent, but his unfavorable numbers (14 percent) were higher. Harris, on the other hand, was viewed with favorably by 64 percent of voters, with only six percent viewing her unfavorably.
All of the other candidates polled below a 50 percent favorable, resulting from many of them being unknown in the state.
Biden’s commanding position in South Carolina is due in part to his support within the black community. Across the South, black voters are increasingly a substantial portion of the Democrat electorate. That is especially true in South Carolina where more than six-in-ten likely Democratic primary voters are African American, according to Monmouth.
Among black voters, Biden has a favorability rating of 82 percent with only four percent of voters seeing him unfavorably. The former vice president’s standing among African Americans was larger than his support with white voters, 74 percent of whom saw him favorably compared to 19 percent unfavorably. None of the other top-tier candidates came close to that level of favorability.
Both Warren and Harris pulled in higher favorability among white voters than African Americans. Warren was viewed favorably by 85 percent of white voters, while only nine percent reported an unfavorable opinion. Harris, meanwhile, was seen favorably by 77 percent of whites and unfavorably by only five percent. The two men were tied among black voters with 56 percent indicating a favorable opinion and seven percent unfavorable.
Sanders also did better with black voters than whites — 68 percent favorable to nine percent unfavorable among African Americans, compared to 64 percent favorable and 23 percent unfavorably — but the numbers were within the margin of error.
When the poll broke down candidate preference based on race, Biden took an explicit majority among black voters The frontrunner polled 51 percent, more than doubling the 24 percent he garnered with white voters. His nearest challenger, Harris, only received 12 percent among African Americans, matching her level of support with whites. Sanders too pulled in the same share from both groups (ten percent). Warren and Buttigieg, however, trailed far behind with only two percent and one percent among black voters respectively.
Monmouth conducted the poll between July 18 through July 22 by surveying 695 registered voters from South Carolina. In order to ensure the poll reflected those likely to show up on primary day, respondents were chosen from a list of registrants that voted in the last two election cycles. The poll had a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points.
The results bode good news for Biden. Since June, the former vice president has been engulfed in controversy for praising the “civility” of two segregationist Democrats, the late Sens. James Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA). Biden invoked the men, who dedicated their careers to halting the progress of civil rights, at a fundraiser in New York City while touting his ability to get “things done” in Congress.
The remarks, which were controversial in their own right, only served to underscore his 40-year record of opposing busing to desegregate public schools. Harris was quick to rebuke the former vice president over the issue at the first Democrat presidential debate.
“It was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing,” Harris said. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bussed to school every day. That little girl was me. So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate. … We have to take it seriously.”
The rebuke left Biden reeling to respond — something civil rights leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson have claimed the former vice president has still yet to do properly.