It didn’t take a Ph.D. in political science to predict Hillary Clinton’s convincing victory in South Carolina’s Democratic primary, but it might take one to know exactly when this primary fight will end.
Saturday was always expected to be Clinton’s day. According to the final Real Clear Politics polling average, Clinton led Bernie Sanders 58.2 to 30.7 on the day of the race. And in the six months before the contest, Clinton never dipped below a 20-point lead over her opponent.
Sanders did, however, cut into Clinton’s lead over the course of the campaign. Polls conducted in October 2015 by both Winthrop University and Clemson University showed Clinton with larger leads (56 points and 37 points, respectively).
Sanders fought the good fight, but he was facing some steep hurdles in the Palmetto State.
Over the course of the campaign, both candidates appealed to African-American voters who made up 62 percent of the 2016 Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina. Although Sanders had a number of major African-American endorsements — including filmmaker Spike Lee and former NAACP president Ben Jealous — Clinton won the endorsement battle when she received Congressman Jim Clyburn’s backing.
Clyburn’s endorsement was to Clinton what Gov. Nikki Haley’s endorsement was to Marco Rubio.
Unfortunately for Sanders, things get even more difficult going forward. On Tuesday, 11 states will have a Democratic primary or caucus on a day known as Super Tuesday. Seven of these contests (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) will be held in the South, a region where African-Americans make up a large percentage of the Democratic primary electorate.
According to the latest polling, Clinton has a 28-point lead in Alabama, a 27-point lead in Georgia, a 28-point lead in Arkansas, and a 23-point lead in Tennessee.
For Sanders to do well in those states, he needed to be more competitive in South Carolina and show greater support from African-American voters. Given Saturday’s results, that did not happen. While he won 58 percent of the white Democrats, he won only 16 percent of black Democrats, according to exit polls.
With South Carolina in the rearview mirror, it seems clear that Sanders’ path to the nomination now rests with the Super Tuesday states outside the South.
He is expected to do well in Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota and his home state of Vermont. However, “doing well” in the first three states could mean only a narrow victory. For example, polls indicate the two candidates are statistically tied in Massachusetts, which Clinton won in 2008.
Using South Carolina as a springboard to the Super Tuesday contests was clearly part of Clinton’s electoral strategy.
In the days before Saturday’s primary, Clinton campaigned all across South Carolina, including stops in Sumter, Kingstree, Florence, Myrtle Beach, North Charleston and Orangeburg. She also had surrogates speaking on her behalf, including her daughter Chelsea and her husband Bill.
Sanders, by comparison, spent most of his time outside the state. Aside from the CNN town-hall in Columbia on Tuesday, by our count Sanders made just one other stop in South Carolina, at Claflin University in Orangeburg.
Although Clinton’s campaign had some rough early contests — getting blown out in New Hampshire and winning narrow victories in Iowa and Nevada — she is now in a strong position to secure the nomination.
If she becomes the nominee this summer in Philadelphia, she can thank South Carolina Democrats for her resounding victory here this weekend.
Jordan Ragusa is an assistant professor of political science at the College of Charleston. Gibbs Knotts is professor and department chairman of political science at the College of Charleston.