Black Voters Lift Obama to S.C. Victory

A vast wave of support from African-Americans lifted Barack Obama to victory in South Carolina's Democratic primary. But his showing among white voters suggests an uphill battle in those upcoming primaries where black voters may play less of a role.

Blacks accounted for a majority of voters in South Carolina, 55 percent -- the highest turnout among African-Americans in any Democratic presidential primary for which data are available. And a huge proportion of them, 78 percent, supported Obama, compared with 19 percent for Hillary Clinton and just 2 percent for John Edwards.

Whites, meanwhile, divided more closely among the three candidates, though Obama notably failed to attract more than a quarter of their votes. Edwards was slightly ahead of Clinton among whites, with Clinton winning white women, Edwards, white men. Interestingly, then, it was blacks who gave Clinton her second-place finish.

Historically, South Carolina has been among the highest-turnout states for African-Americans in Democratic primaries, along with Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland and Virginia. Black turnout in South Carolina on Saturday far surpassed its level in previous Democratic contests this year -- 23 percent in Michigan, 15 percent in Nevada, 4 percent in Iowa and 1 percent in New Hampshire.

Obama's showing among blacks echoed Jesse Jackson's victory in the 1984 and 1988 South Carolina primaries, and also Obama's result in this year's Nevada caucuses, where he won 83 percent of African-Americans. At the same time, Obama also won young, nonblack voters in South Carolina, with 52 percent support from those under age 30, although they accounted for just 5 percent of all voters.

One difference from Nevada is that there were so many more blacks voting in South Carolina. Another was the absence of Hispanic voters, where they made up a mere 1 percent. In Nevada Hispanics accounted for 15 percent, and Clinton won them by more than 2-1.

Much in the way religion has been a dividing factor in the Republican contest, with sharp divisions between evangelical and nonevangelical voters, so now is race in the Democratic presidential primaries.

Women are another factor: The Democratic contest continues to motivate them, with heavily female turnout. In South Carolina, 61 percent of voters were women (including 35 percent black women and 25 percent white women). Turnout among women has been as high elsewhere this year as well, - 59 percent in Nevada, and 57 percent in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan.

Obama won all men and all women alike in South Carolina, given the high proportion of blacks and his broad support in that group. As noted, Clinton and Edwards -- who was born in South Carolina -- split whites.

Setting aside blacks, Clinton did better among white Democrats, while Edwards had more support among white independents -- of use to Clinton, again if it holds, in upcoming closed or partially closed primaries, including Florida's (which is not awarding delegates because of an intraparty dispute over the timing of its primary), as well as one of the big Feb. 5 prizes, New York.

Most voters expressed some distaste for the fight leading up to the vote. Though about half thought both candidates had unfairly attacked one another, seven in 10 said Clinton was unfair in her attacks, and 57 percent said the same of Obama.

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