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New S.C. Primary Poll: Biden Holds Edge

Two candidates ahead of pack with likely Democratic voters

Election 2020 graphic with outline of state imposed on background image of capital building

02/19/2020

Contact: Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 (o), 978-758-4664 (c), or Christine_Gillette@uml.edu or Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu.

With the South Carolina presidential primary just 10 days away, former Vice President Joe Biden has a narrow edge over U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in a new poll released today. 

The independent, nonpartisan poll of likely voters in South Carolina’s Democratic primary found that Biden is ahead of Sanders by just 2 points, with the support of 23 percent, compared to 21 percent for Sanders. Both candidates are moving ahead of the pack, with businessman Tom Steyer in third place with 13 percent and Mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren in a tie for fourth at 11 percent. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar follows with 9 percent and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard at 4 percent. 

Detailed poll results – including candidate favorability ratings, topline and methodology – are available at www.uml.edu/polls. The nonpartisan poll is independently funded by the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion, which conducts public-opinion polling at the state and national levels. The internationally recognized center uses the latest technology and highest standards in its surveys and is a member of the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s Transparency Initiative. The center’s events and polls on political and social issues provide unique opportunities for civic engagement, experiential learning and research.

“Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this poll is that it’s as if South Carolina voters were unmoved by the results of Iowa and New Hampshire, where Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren all won delegates. In South Carolina, none of them poll higher than 11 percent, behind Biden, Sanders and Steyer,” said Joshua Dyck, director of the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion and associate professor of political science. 

Among likely voters, Biden is supported by 43 percent of African American voters, compared to 20 percent who support Sanders. Sanders leads among white voters with 23 percent, followed by Buttigieg (16 percent), Klobuchar (15 percent), Warren (14 percent) and Biden with 11 percent. Sanders also leads with likely voters younger than 45 with 34 percent, compared to 15 percent for Biden, while Biden has the most support of those 45 and older at 26 percent, compared to Sanders’ 15 percent.

The poll also found that three in 10 likely voters said they could change their mind about their choice for a presidential candidate. Support for the two front-runners in South Carolina, Biden and Sanders, is most stable, with 85 percent of Sanders’ supporters saying they will definitely vote for him and 82 percent of those who favor Biden saying they will not change their mind. However, two-thirds (66 percent) of Klobuchar supporters say they could change their mind, followed by 39 percent of Steyer voters, 38 percent of Warren supporters and 34 percent of those who favor Buttigieg. 

“With less than two weeks to go the South Carolina primary is still a volatile race,” said John Cluverius, associate director of the Center for Public Opinion and assistant professor of political science. He noted that throughout the race for the Democratic nomination so far, some have seen it as having an insurgent lane and a more moderate lane. Based on this, “support could easily flow from Buttigieg to Sanders or Warren to Biden.”

Among the two front-runners, likely voters said they believe Biden (41 percent) is more likely than Sanders (30 percent) to beat President Donald Trump in the general election. Forty-four percent of likely voters said they agree with Biden’s policies more than Sanders (32 percent) and 25 percent said they agree with them about the same amount.

Asked which Democratic candidate they believe will ultimately win the party’s nomination, 28 percent said Sanders, 22 percent said Biden, followed by Buttigieg with 8 percent and Tom Steyer at 6 percent. No other candidate on the ballot received higher than 3 percent, but Michael Bloomberg, who is not officially in the running in South Carolina, received 7 percent support. 

Likely Democratic primary voters were also asked which candidate they believe best continues the legacy of former President Barack Obama, who has a 78 percent favorability rating, higher than all of the candidates. Forty-two percent said Biden, with Buttigieg a distant second at 11 percent. However, 69 percent of likely voters said they do not think Obama should endorse a presidential candidate.

“The internals of this poll look better for Joe Biden than the actual horserace numbers. South Carolina Democrats see him as the candidate who best represents the Obama legacy and head to head with Sen. Sanders, they prefer his policy positions and see him as most likely to beat Donald Trump in a general election. With that said, our poll has this as a close race, with Biden only ahead by 2 points and Sanders inside the margin of error. With just 10 days to go, Biden needs to hold this lead and prove he can win if he wants to make a play on Super Tuesday,” said Dyck.

The poll of likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters also found:

  • Only 18 percent said they think the country is headed in the right direction;
  • Asked if they feel House Democrats should accept a compromise bill with President Donald Trump and the Republican Senate that would create Medicare for All while fully funding a border wall, 22 percent of those surveyed said yes while 78 percent said no;
  • 77 percent believe that rather than holding the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary first, other states should have a chance to vote first through a rotation.

The poll of 400 likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters was independently funded by the University of Massachusetts Lowell, which has hundreds of students and alumni who hail from South Carolina. The survey was designed and analyzed by the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion and fielded by YouGov from Feb. 12 through Feb. 18. It has an adjusted margin of error of plus or minus 7.5 percent. Full poll methodology is available at www.uml.edu/polls.

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