The race to represent the Democratic Party against President Donald Trump heads south this week, as voters in South Carolina will go to the polls on Saturday, February 29th. South Carolina, which usually goes to the Republicans during the general election, is still an essential test for Democrats. It’s the first state with a large African American electorate, and every nominee since 1992 has won an outright majority of black voters during the primary.
Although Joe Biden has led in polls of South Carolina’s black electorate for most of the race, he has yet to win a single state so far. That failure has raised questions about the former frontrunner’s viability. While challenges from moderates like Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Michael Bloomberg have limited his success so far, Biden has a good shot to win on Saturday.
Recent Democratic primaries in South Carolina have not been close contests. In 2008, Barack Obama earned 55.4 percent of the vote, 28.9 percent more than second-place Hillary Clinton. Eight years later, Clinton would beat Bernie Sanders by a 47.42 percent margin. The closest race in recent memory took place in 2004, back when North Carolina Senator John Edwards earned 44.86 percent of the vote to Massachusetts Senator John Kerry’s 30.27 percent — an impressive 14.5-point margin of victory.
As in previous races, South Carolina should be a bit of a blowout. The RealClearPolitics polling average gives the former Vice President a healthy 14.3-point lead. National frontrunner Bernie Sanders slots in at second with support from about 20 percent of voters, not far from 26.02 percent he earned against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Tom Steyer, surprisingly, is polling in third, and he’s the final candidate in the double-digits. Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar have all failed to break 10 percent.
Since South Carolina is a primary, not a caucus, these polling numbers should hold. Sanders finished within two points of his polling average in New Hampshire, and while South Carolina gets polled at a lower frequency than the Granite State, expect some similar accuracy here. And even if the polls are off by, say, five points, that still wouldn’t be enough for Sanders to top Biden.
Biden also has recent trends going for him. Although Tuesday’s Democratic debate was inconclusive, most candidates piled on Sanders, keeping negative attention away from Biden. As such, there is little reason to expect a post-debate swing that’s harmful to Biden’s chances.
Also, Biden is trending up in FiveThirtyEight’s polling average:
Nate Silver and the folks at FiveThirtyEight bake some additional factors into their polling averages. Not only do they weigh national trends as they calculate statewide data, but they also correct for “house effects,” or bias toward a candidate created by a specific pollster’s methodology. As of February 22nd, they had Biden at just 23.4 percent, a number that has since jumped to 36.7 percent. It’s hard to see Sanders charging back from a 20-point deficit with just days to go, and they’re giving Biden a 94 percent chance to come away with the most votes. That’s the most conclusive number we’ve seen so far this cycle!
As of publication, the sportsbooks favor Biden, but not as heavily as you might expect. Here are PointsBet’s odds for South Carolina:
Biden is the frontrunner at -400 — surprisingly long odds for the heavy favorite. Bernie Sanders earns +200 odds from the sportsbook, and all other candidates have odds in the thousands. These lines would have us believe that it’s a two-person race, but that doesn’t seem like an accurate characterization of the race in South Carolina.
You should buy Biden, and you should buy him quickly. His recent upward trajectory makes South Carolina a near-lock, and he’ll have a chance to right the ship after a messy start to the primary race.
PointsBets’ line of -400 means that you’re buying Biden with an 80 percent chance to win the state, and while that’s relatively steep, it’s 14 percentage points less than what FiveThirtyEight gives him. That’s a steal! Lock Biden in here while you still can, as I expect PointsBet to correct their line as Saturday approaches.