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Sanders and Steyer closing gap on Biden as SC 2020 presidential primary nears

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Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Tom Steyer sit at the beginning of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally on Jan. 20, 2020, in Columbia. Meg Kinnard/AP

COLUMBIA — Joe Biden's hold atop South Carolina Democratic presidential primary polls has never wavered over nearly a year.

But the former vice president's lead continues to slide with the South's first primary just under a month away. 

Biden, who once led by as much as 31 percentage points in South Carolina, holds a 5-point edge over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the latest Post and Courier-Change Research poll released Sunday. Biden sits at 25 percent to Sanders' 20 percent.

Billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who has shown South Carolina is a top priority among early-voting states with his constant advertising, sits third not far behind the political veterans at 18 percent.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, once considered Biden's chief rival in the state, fell back to fourth, off pace with the leaders at 11 percent.

Former Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, at 7 percent, is the only other Democratic White House hopeful polling above 3 percent in South Carolina, the new poll found. Ten percent of voters had no pick.

This is the eighth Post and Courier-Change Research poll of the 2020 race in South Carolina and interestingly, no challenger to Biden has polled at more than 20 percent. 

Biden's lead in South Carolina has diminished because his support has fallen from a high of 46 percent in May. Few political observers expected Biden to win South Carolina by the 20-point leads he held over the summer when the Democratic field boasted two dozen contenders.

His drop in S.C. support comes as the race becomes more focused with the field cut by more than half and the leading contenders consistently standing out in the early-voting states. 

Sanders has taken leads in Iowa and New Hampshire with Warren and Buttigieg joining Biden to round out the top four leaders. Iowa voters head to their caucus Monday. New Hampshire holds its primary on Feb. 11. 

Biden keeps a lead in South Carolina's Feb. 29 primary thanks to black voters who account for close to two-thirds of Democratic ballots cast. 

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The vice president to the country's first African American president received 30 percent backing from S.C. black voters in the latest Post and Courier-Change Research poll. Biden was receiving support from half of the state's black voters over the summer.

Steyer's work to make in-roads with South Carolina's African American community, including visiting areas with large black populations and hiring black staffers, appear to be paying off. He received backing from 24 percent of black voters. Sanders follows at 16 percent with Warren at 10 percent. 

Buttigieg, whose ability to stay among the leaders for so long has been the surprise of the 2020 campaign, continues to struggle winning African American support.

He received 2 percent of S.C. black voter backing, the same as Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Buttigieg, however, is third among white voters behind Sanders and Biden and ahead of Warren.

Other findings in the new Post and Courier-Change Research poll include:

• Women prefer Biden, while men favor Sanders and Steyer.

• Biden, Sanders and Steyer hold leads among different age groups in South Carolina. Sanders has the younger voters under 34. Steyer leads among 35 to 49 year olds. And Biden dominates older voters 50 and up.

• Biden is ahead in the Midlands (Columbia) and Lowcountry (Charleston), while Sanders has the edge in the Upstate (Greenville) and is tied with Steyer for the lead in the Pee Dee (Florence/Myrtle Beach).

• About half of S.C. primary voters said they were absolutely certain they will vote for their preferred current candidate. Four out of 10 voters said there was a small chance they could change their minds. Ten percent put themselves at 50-50.

• The results in Iowa will not change the minds of 43 percent of S.C. primary voters. But 35 percent said they might consider another candidate if their first choice stumbles at the caucus. Just 13 percent they would likely change their support based on the Iowa outcome.

The Post and Courier-Change Research Poll surveyed 651 likely South Carolina Democratic 2020 presidential primary voters from Jan. 26 to 29. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

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