(C) Reuters. Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Biden speaks at his South Carolina primary night rally in Columbia
By Chris Kahn
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Joe Biden bet his future as a Democratic presidential contender on South Carolina and its large pool of African-American voters, and the backing of a leading black congressman vaulted him to victory there on Saturday, according to exit polls by Edison Research.
A majority of voters surveyed by Edison said U.S. Representative Jim Clyburn’s endorsement of Biden on Wednesday was an important factor in their decision.
“My buddy Jim Clyburn, you brought me back!” Biden told the No. 3 Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives before addressing supporters in Columbia, South Carolina, after coasting to a win in the fourth Democratic nominating contest so far. The eventual nominee will face Republican President Donald Trump in November’s general election.
Heading into South Carolina, Biden was on the ropes after poor showings in the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. A Reuters/Ipsos national poll this week showed the former vice president – often seen as having the greatest appeal among black voters – lagging rival U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont for the first time among that group.
In South Carolina, though, he won 61% of African Americans, who make up more than half the Southern (NYSE:SO) state’s Democratic electorate. Only 16% supported Sanders, who came into Saturday’s contest with a lead in convention delegates.
In the Edison poll, 61% said the endorsement from Clyburn, who has represented South Carolina for nearly three decades, was an important factor in their decision, including 27% who said it was “the most important factor.”
Edison, which compiles voter polls and live election results for media organizations including ABC News, CBS News, CNN, NBC News and Reuters, found that 57% of those casting ballots on Saturday were African American; 40% were white.
Here are other highlights from the poll, which was based on interviews with 2,178 people who voted on Saturday at 35 locations around South Carolina. The proportions may change as more polling is conducted and votes are tallied:
** Eighty-one percent of South Carolina voters in the Democratic primary said they will vote for the party’s nominee regardless of who it is.
** Nineteen percent said they are participating in the Democratic primary for the first time. About 33% of first-time primary voters backed Biden while 26% supported Sanders.
** Thirty-seven percent said they made up their minds about how to vote in the last few days before the primary. Among those late-deciding voters, 49% said they backed Biden while 16% supported Sanders.
** 53% of Democratic primary voters want a candidate who “can beat Donald Trump” more than a candidate who agrees with them on major issues.
** 41% said healthcare is their top issue, while 21% cite income inequality, 16% cite race relations, and 14% cite climate change.
** South Carolina’s Democratic primary voters were split over Sanders’ signature issue, Medicare for All, which would replace private health insurance with a government-run plan. Forty-eight percent said they supported it, while 46% opposed it.
** Older African Americans were more likely to support Biden. The former vice president won 76% of black primary voters who were at least 60 years old.
** Younger black voters were largely split between Biden and Sanders. Among African Americans between 17 and 29, 37% said they voted for Biden while 37% said they voted for Sanders.
** Biden won the largest share of women voters, with support from 50% of women who participated in the Democratic primary.
** Biden won the support of 43% of white, college-educated women in the Democratic primary, the largest share of all the candidates.
** South Carolina’s primary voters appeared to be more moderate than other states. Only about half described themselves as liberal. In comparison, a majority of caucus-goers in Iowa and Nevada and primary voters in New Hampshire described themselves as liberal.
** Twenty-six percent of South Carolina Democratic primary voters identified as independent, up from 16% in 2016.
** Fifty-four percent want the next president to return to Democratic President Barack Obama’s policies, while 26% want more liberal policies and 16% want more conservative ones.
** Fifty-three percent said the U.S. economic system needs a complete overhaul.
** Forty-six percent said they are angry about the Trump administration; another 40% are dissatisfied but not angry.
** Sixty-seven percent said they have an unfavorable view of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
** Seventy-seven percent said they have a favorable view of Biden.
** Fifty-one percent said they have a favorable view of Sanders.
** Sanders won the largest share of white voters.
** Forty-six percent of Democratic primary voters said Biden has the best understanding of concerns of minorities.