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Biden Maintains Lead

South Carolina

Sanders and Steyer jockey for second

West Long Branch, NJ – Joe Biden stays well atop the field in South Carolina, according to the third Monmouth (“Mon-muth”) University Poll of likely Democratic primary voters there. Tom Steyer and Bernie Sanders are fighting for the second spot. Biden’s wide lead in the poll is underpinned by solid support among black voters in the state.

Among South Carolina voters who are likely to participate in the Democratic primary on Saturday, support currently stands at 36% for Biden, 16% for Sanders, and 15% for Steyer. Candidates who currently fall below the statewide delegate viability threshold include Elizabeth Warren (8%), Pete Buttigieg (6%), Amy Klobuchar (4%), and Tulsi Gabbard (1%). Another 15% of likely primary voters remain undecided and do not lean toward any candidate at this time. In Monmouth’s October poll, 33% supported Biden, 16% Warren, and 12% Sanders. It should be noted that interviews for the current poll were conducted after the Nevada caucuses, wrapping up right before Tuesday night’s debate.

“Biden appears to be holding on to his core support among African Americans in South Carolina. The recent endorsement by Rep. James Clyburn should help solidify that,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Black voters, who form a majority of the likely primary electorate, back Biden (45%) by a wide margin over Steyer (17%) and Sanders (13%). White voters are more divided, with Biden (26%) followed by Sanders (17%), Warren (13%), Buttigieg (13%), and Steyer (12%). Among those who identify themselves as Democrats, 44% back Biden, followed by Sanders (15%) and Steyer (14%), while those who are independent or identify with another party are divided among Biden (22%), Sanders (18%), Steyer (15%), and Warren (11%).

Just over 4 in 10 likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters are set on their candidate choice, including 39% who say they are firmly decided and another 4% who have already voted by absentee ballot. Biden (59%) and Sanders (57%) are the most likely to have their support locked in. Less than half of those backing other candidates are firmly decided.

“A key metric for Biden in this make-or-break state is that his support appears to be firm. There is still a large chunk of the electorate who are undecided, but they are mainly moderate black voters. That’s a group that tends to like Biden,” said Murray.

Mike Bloomberg is not on the ballot in South Carolina, but 1 in 4 likely primary voters say they would be either very (9%) or somewhat (16%) likely to vote for him if he was. Another 19% would not be too likely to vote for him and 46% would not be at all likely. Those who would be at least somewhat likely to support Bloomberg include 41% of Steyer voters, 26% of Biden voters, and 19% of Sanders voters.  [Note: 2% of those polled actually volunteered that they would vote for Bloomberg when initially asked for their candidate choice. These respondents were reassigned to a second choice after being informed that Bloomberg is not on the ballot and cannot be written in.]

The first three contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada have not had much impact on how South Carolina voters view this race. Very few say those results made them take a second look at the field, with 8% saying they changed their mind about whom to support and 7% saying they did not change their choice in the end.

Democratic primary voters are looking for electability – 66% say beating President Donald Trump is more important to their vote than lining up with a candidate on any policy issue. Another 16% say electability is about as important as their top policy concern while 15% say it is less important than issue alignment. Among those who say beating Trump is their top priority, 38% support Biden, 16% support Sanders, and 13% support Steyer. Among those who say it is not a top priority, Biden (32%) still retains a lead over Sanders (16%) and Steyer (15%).

Looking at candidate qualities, 53% of likely Democratic primary voters say they want someone who can unite the country, while 41% say they prefer someone who can bring about change. Interestingly, this change number is higher than in the Super Tuesday states Monmouth has polled (32% in California and 27% in Virginia). In those states, Sanders is the most popular choice among “change” voters, but in South Carolina it is Biden (29%), with the edge over Sanders (20%) and Steyer (18%). Biden (43%) has a larger lead among “unite” voters over Sanders (14%) and Steyer (12%).

Palmetto State Democratic primary voters are divided on the possibility of beating Trump in November. Over 4 in 10 (44%) think the incumbent will be reelected, while a nearly identical number (46%) think he will lose to the Democrat. Still, nearly two-thirds (65%) of likely primary voters feel optimistic about this year’s election (32% very and 33% somewhat), while only 25% are pessimistic (9% very and 16% somewhat). Black voters (68%) are more likely than white voters (58%) to feel optimistic about the 2020 election.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from February 23 to 25, 2020 with 454 South Carolina voters who are likely to vote in the Democratic presidential primary on February 29, 2020, out of 713 registered voters that were contacted for the poll. The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 4.6 percentage points. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.

QUESTIONS AND RESULTS                                                                        

(* Some columns may not add to 100% due to rounding.)

1. If the Democratic primary election for president was today, would you vote for [NAMES WERE ROTATED]?  [If UNDECIDED: If you had to vote for one of these candidates at this moment, who do you lean toward?]

(with leaners)
Joe Biden 36% 33% 39%
Bernie Sanders 16% 12% 10%
Tom Steyer 15% 4% 2%
Elizabeth Warren 8% 16% 9%
Pete Buttigieg 6% 3% 5%
Amy Klobuchar 4% 2% 1%
Tulsi Gabbard 1% 1% <1%
(VOL) Other 0% 15%* 17%*
(VOL) Undecided 15% 15% 17%
    (n) (454) (402) (405)

      * Includes candidates who have since dropped out.

2. Are you firmly decided on your candidate choice or are you open to the possibility of voting for a different candidate on primary day?  [If OPEN: Would you rate the possibility of supporting a different candidate as high, moderate, or low?]

Firmly decided 39%
Open to different candidate …high possibility 9%
moderate possibility 22%
low possibility 8%
Already voted 4%
(VOL) Don’t know 3%
No first choice (from Q1) 15%
(n) (454)

3. Mike Bloomberg will not be on the ballot in South Carolina. How likely would you be to vote for him if he was on the ballot – very likely, somewhat likely, not too likely, or not at all likely?

Very likely 9%
Somewhat likely 16%
Not too likely 19%
Not at all likely 46%
Already voted 4%
(VOL) Don’t know 6%
      (n) (454)

4. Did the results of the prior contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada make you take a second look at any of the candidates, or did these results not really change your thinking about who you will support in the primary? [If TOOK A SECOND LOOK: Did you actually change your mind about who to support or not?]

Took a second look, and…changed mind 8%
did not change mind 7%
Not really change thinking 77%
Already voted 4%
(VOL) Don’t know 4%
(n) (454)

5. When thinking about who you are supporting in the Democratic primary, how much of a factor is beating Donald Trump next November – is it more important than any policy issue you are concerned with, about as important as your top policy concern, or less important than your top policy concern?

More important 66%
About as important 16%
Less important 15%
(VOL) Don’t know 3%
      (n) (454)

6. If you had to choose, are you more concerned about choosing a candidate who can bring about change or a candidate who can unite the country?

Bring about change 41%
Unite the country 53%
(VOL) Neither 3%
(VOL) Don’t know 3%
      (n) (454)

7. Do you feel optimistic or pessimistic about the 2020 presidential election? [Is that very or somewhat optimistic/pessimistic]?

Very optimistic 32%
Somewhat optimistic 33%
Somewhat pessimistic 16%
Very pessimistic 9%
(VOL) Neither, don’t care 3%
(VOL) Don’t know 7%
      (n) (454)

8. As of right now, what do you think the chances are that Donald Trump gets reelected in November – do you think he will definitely get reelected, probably get reelected, probably lose to the Democrat, or definitely lose to the Democrat?

Definitely get reelected 6%
Probably get reelected 38%
Probably lose to the Democrat 28%
Definitely lose to the Democrat 18%
(VOL) Depends on the Democrat 3%
(VOL) Don’t know 7%
      (n) (454)


The Monmouth University Poll was sponsored and conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from February 23 to 25, 2020 with a statewide random sample of 713 South Carolina voters drawn from a list of registered voters who participated in a primary or general election in the past two election cycles (excluding those who have consistently voted in Republican primaries), or have registered to vote since November 2018. This includes 231 contacted by a live interviewer on a landline telephone and 482 contacted by a live interviewer on a cell phone, in English. Results are based on 454 voters who are likely to vote in the Democratic presidential primary on February 29, 2020.  Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey design, data weighting and analysis. The full sample is weighted for age, gender, race, education and region based on state voter registration list information and U.S. Census information (CPS 2018 supplement). Data collection support provided by Braun Research (field) and Aristotle (voter sample). For results based on the sample of likely Democratic primary voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points (unadjusted for sample design). Sampling error can be larger for sub-groups (see table below). In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

Self-Reported Party
63% Democrat
33% Independent
  4% Republican
41% Male
59% Female
20% 18-34
23% 35-49
34% 50-64
23% 65+
37% White, non-Hispanic
57% Black
  6% Other
61% No degree
39% 4 year degree
39% Low CD1/6
29% PeeDee CD5/7
32% Upstate CD 2/3/4

Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and crosstabs by key demographic groups.