Articles and Analysis


South Carolina Democratic Endgame

Topics: 2008 , Barack Obama , Hillary Clinton , John Edwards , LA Times/Bloomberg , The 2008 Race , Washington Post


The South Carolina polling continues to show a substantial lead for Obama, while Edwards' rise hints that he could challenge Clinton for second place.

At the moment, Clinton continues to hold a six-point advantage over Edwards, but Edwards has been rising while Clinton has been moving down. Obama, meanwhile, has been fairly steady at around 40-44% support, though with some hint of a small decline in the sensitive estimator. Note however that the Clemson University poll included here had an amazing undecided rate of 36%. That makes every candidate in their poll look lower than in all other polls that have a much lower rate of undecided. The level of undecided is quite sensitive to how the poll is conducted, including whether respondents are pushed as to whether they "lean" towards a candidate. The Clemson poll apparently didn't push at all among undecided voters. We'd be making a mistake to read their data as indicating a decline of support for anyone.

A second place for Edwards would, of course, be good news for his campaign, while Clinton would no doubt argue she had conceded the state to account for a third place finish. But Edwards still has some ground to make up, and late deciding voters remain an unknown-- if they are unhappy with either Clinton or Obama, Edwards can benefit simply by not being one of them. This may be especially true among independents who vote in the Democratic race, and the expected handful of Republicans who show up. (Republicans and independents can vote in the Democratic primary only if they did NOT vote in last week's Republican primary.)

I think the more compelling story of South Carolina will be the exit poll results. Obama has appealed to white voters in previous primaries and caucuses. The pre-election polls have found him getting as low as 10% of the white vote in South Carolina. The potential for racial polarization in this Southern state could damage his ability to transcend race as a basis of voting. Paradoxically, there has been speculation that Clinton can win the votes of black women, a result that could reduce polarization in the exit poll. We'll know much more about how voters decided by Saturday night.

Cross posted at Political Arithmetik.



Not doing well among white South Carolina Dems might mean he won't do well among white Dems in other Southern states, but I doubt very much that it means anything nationally (see IA, NH, NV).



The Obama camp is saying that the white vote may also be skewed by the fact that Edwards is a favorite son, who may be syphoning off more votes than he would in other states.


Posted by: cdh | January 25, 2008 6:29 PM

Interesting point. Someone over at TPM pointed out some interesting observations about this who "polarizing" meme going around which is jammed up by the SurveyUSA final polling in SC.

1/24 White Black

Clinton 38% 18%

Edwards 38% 6%

Obama 21% 73%

12/9 White Black
Clinton 51% 39%
Edwards 23% 2%
Obama 19% 56%

With whites, Clinton -13, Edwards +15, Obama +2.
With blacks, Clinton -21, Edwards +4, Obama +17.

Clinton lost a lot of the white vote, Edwards gained a lot and Obama gained a small amount as well.

Clinton lost a lot of the black vote, Edwards gained a little, and Obama gained a lot.

Obama gained white support since SurveyUSA's poll in December and Hillary has lost a LOT of both white and black support.

Looks like people in general are turning away from Clinton from these numbers. Whites going to Edwards, blacks to Obama.



No kidding!!! I hate to say it but this IS as Southern state. In New Hampshire and Nevada, Obama won the majority in the RURAL counties, away from the pro-Clinton organized metro areas. It's fair to say that, in those states, the rural populations are pretty lily-white. That's why Obama won the Nevada delegate count - HRC may have won in Vegas, but Obama won mostly every place else. White people WILL vote Obama - just not in the South where, sadly, bigotry still speaks.


We think Clinton will Come in Thrd

John Edwards: Since the debate on Jan 21st he is the ONLY Candidate trending upward. Since the Debate he has been at 17% on 21st Jan to 24% on Jan 24th. With 6 data points his RCP Average is 19.6% Points. We see this trend to continue with Edwards getting 27% of the vote.

Hilliary Clinton: Trending downward. She is trending downward FASTER than any candidate. Since the Debate she has been at 28% on 21st Jan to 30% on Jan 24th. With 6 data points her RCP Average is 26.6% Points. This is a quick sine wave trend short in duration. We see this trend to Tapper here and come in line with the RCP average of 26.6%

Barrack Obama: Trending downward. Not as steep as Clinton but still falling. We see a confined fall 2% Points More. Since the Debate he has been at 43% on 21st Jan to 43% on Jan 24th. With 6 data points a large drop to 27% in one poll trending slowly back to 43% His RCP Average is 37.8% Points. We see the Clemson poll as an anomaly and believe he will come in 2% points below the current poll of 43%. We see Obama receiving 41% of the Vote.

Our Projections
Obama 41%
Edwards 27%
Clinton 26.6%

You can see the full report on NowPublic.com


Michael MacKuen:

Charles, you raise an interesting question about how to compare Clinton's and Obama's chances of carrying a Southern state. South Carolina, itself, is not critical: when a Democrat carries South Carolina we need to start gathering up the animals, two-by-two, onto a wooden boat.

More seriously, though, for a Democrat to carry a Southern state that Democrat will have to carry not only Democrats of whatever ethnicity and social class but, crucially, middle of the road independent types. During a general election (unlike the primary), the competing candidates will differ considerably on standard "issue" appeals, with the Democrat being considerably more liberal than the Republican—whoever the candidates turn out to be. No Democrat will be able to out-Conservative the GOP candidate in any case. So for the Democrat to win, that Democrat will have to attract independent voters on a personal basis. To evaluate Clinton's and Obama's candidatures, we need to understand how they are likely to play as personalities standing before moderate mostly White persuadable voters. (As you know, given the science, these swing voters may not be the most deeply committed following the policy debate.)

Two questions thus arise. First, who are the "swing" voters in the South? (They are almost surely not the same as White Democratic primary voters in largely Republican South Carolina.) The answer to this question may vary by Southern state. (You know some of the answer here.)

And, having identified the character of Southern swing voters, we then ask how can we evaluate the candidates' potential appeal in the Fall. This is a tough challenge not very well informed by the simple primary-centered candidate preference data we have at hand.


Daniel T:

I think where Edwards places in very important. Bill Clinton has already stated that Hillary can't win in SC because of the black vote. But if Edwards beats her that logic falls flat on its face; the idea that she came in third because she had written of the state rings hollow. Nationally, it doesn't make much difference whether she places second or third from a delagate point of view. But it makes a big difference in terms of how the loss is spun. If she comes in third, she can't say she lost because of the black vote and she will look much weaker as a result.



Why only the focus on the lowest that Obama polls among whites? How about the highest? I understand that it makes for a compelling story to talk about race with the post-racial candidate... but how much of a story is there?

I read elsewhere (in multiple places) that Obama can only get 10% of the white vote... so the media story is to quote the bounding estimate rather than some central tendency?

I know neither the full story on the numbers nor the source of the media spin, but this smacks of irresponsibility in pursuit of a story.




Great analysis. Much more meaningful than the usual MSM spin.



Hillary Clinton will come within 5% of Obama.



Rickya -- I highly, highly, highly, doubt it.



>> I think where Edwards places in very important. Bill Clinton has already stated that Hillary can't win in SC because of the black vote. But if Edwards beats her that logic falls flat on its face; ... Posted by: Daniel T

Great comment, Daniel T.



Why so off on the Obama victory Saturday night. It should have been a slam dunk.


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