US primaries #9: the Democrats hit South Carolina

by Jackie_South on February 27, 2016

South Carolina iconTonight sees the last of the eight primaries that precede Super Tuesday: the Democratic primary election in South Carolina

Don’t get too excited though: of those eight contests this is probably the one that has the most predictable outcome: Hillary Clinton will win, and win big.

The graph below shows our rolling poll of polls. Each point is the average of the five most recent polls up to that date, weighted for sample size.

SC Dem polls 2016

As you can see, Bernie Sanders has never come close to closing the gap, or even hitting 40%, and Clinton has never fallen below the high fifties. Whilst Sanders closed the gap to some extent following the close result in Iowa and his big victory in New Hampshire, Clinton has opened it up again over the last week. Clinton now has a two-to-one edge on Sanders in the polls in the Palmetto State.

That is helpful to Clinton: South Carolina is the largest state so far to hold a primary. It has a total of 53 pledged delegates on offer through the primary, compared to 44 in Iowa, 24 in New Hampshire and 35 in Nevada. Whilst Clinton already has a clear edge on delegate numbers already, much of this is in the form of super delegates. Having a healthy lead in those distributed through the primaries themselves puts her in a probably unassailably strong position going into Super Tuesday next week.

So, if Clinton is going to win South Carolina, can Sanders win any part of the state? Bernie Sanders does well in white, liberal areas. South Carolina is a far more conservative state where most of the Democratic vote is black. Are there any white-enough and liberal-enough parts of the state where Bernie could break through?

A couple of maps. The first is one used before, and shows how the vote between Obama and Romney went in the state in 2012. I am going to use this as a proxy for identifying the more conservative and liberal counties of the state.

South Carolina 2012 result map

The problem for Sanders is that many of those blue counties for Obama are the ones with large black populations. The second map shows the proportion of African Americans in each county.

SC African American map
Combining the two maps, you can see that this does not leave much fertile territory for Sanders. The map below shows the counties that are more than 45% African American in blue and the counties where Romney won by more than 10% in red. That leaves just ten of the forty-six counties.

SC 2016 Dem factors map

Of these ten, I have identified six as being Sanders’ best shots: counties won by Obama which are less than 45% African American. Of these, the best shot, and most populous, is Charleston County. Based around the city of the same name, it is relatively liberal compared to the rest of the state and 68% white, 29% black. It is also one of only two counties that Trump did not win: Rubio won it by a narrow 2% lead over The Donald.

If Sanders can win anywhere, it is likely to be here. But Clinton will sweep up the vast majority of the state’s counties as she trounces Bernie tonight.

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