South Carolina primary 2024: Trump projected to win, Haley vows to stay in the race

What can we take away from Trump's big Palmetto State victory?

Former President Donald Trump has won the South Carolina Republican primary, ABC News projects. It was a swift and embarrassing defeat for former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who rose to political prominence as South Carolina’s governor. Nevertheless, in her concession speech, Haley vowed to continue her campaign into Super Tuesday on March 5.

Throughout the evening, 538 reporters, analysts and contributors broke down the results as they came in with live updates, analysis and commentary. Read our full live blog below.

Haley’s long history in South Carolina politics

It's not a huge surprise that Haley thinks she can win tonight despite the odds. Her first political success was in a 2004 South Carolina state House Republican primary, in which she unseated a powerful 30-year incumbent to win. She tells that story on the stump, and the message is clear: She's won as an underdog before.

As a legislator, Haley carved out a reputation in South Carolina as an outsider taking on state power. She sponsored a bill to force roll call votes on issues like raising legislator pay, losing support from her colleagues and a race for a committee chair position in the process. Later, as governor, she became known for luring businesses to the state, siding with business over labor, signing a 20-week abortion ban and blocking Medicaid expansion.

On social issues, though, she has tried to walk a middle path. Haley has talked about the racism her Indian American family faced in rural South Carolina, and supporters have said the "good ol' boys" network never quite accepted her in state politics. But she also frames her success as an example of how the South has made progress. She didn't tackle the issue of the Confederate battle flag flying over the State House until after a racist shooting in Charleston in 2015, in which nine churchgoers were killed in Emanuel AME Church. She has also sidestepped more recent controversies, like anti-transgender bathroom laws.

Of course, all of her history in the state hasn't seemed to help her against Trump. In polls, she's winning only about a third of potential voters. She may be used to playing the role of David, but not all Goliaths fall in defeat.

—Monica Potts, 538

Listen to this podcast while you wait!

If you are looking for something to listen to while we wait for polls to close and results to come in, allow me to suggest our latest episode of the 538 Politics podcast. We talk about what to expect tonight, including how South Carolina's primary electorate is different from that of other early states and how the results might shape what Haley does next. We also had a debate about a recent poll on presidential greatness and looked at polling that suggests the wars in Ukraine and Gaza have created some significant divides within the two parties.

—Galen Druke, 538

Haley has gained ground but significantly lags Trump

Let's not sugar-coat this: If the polls are right, Haley will lose badly to Trump in South Carolina, her home state, tonight. According to 538's average of polls, Trump commands the support of 62 percent of likely primary voters compared with Haley's 34 percent. Haley has gained ground in recent weeks, likely a result of voter consolidation as the rest of the candidates dropped out after voting in Iowa and New Hampshire, but so has Trump.

Moreover, according to a poll released this week by Suffolk University/USA Today (which had a very similar breakdown to our average), Trump is leading Haley with most major demographics in the state. The former president leads among Republicans and conservatives, groups that make up 76 and 81 percent of Republican primary voters in the state, respectively. Haley, meanwhile, holds an almost 20-point lead among respondents who described themselves as moderate or liberal and a 26-point lead among those who say the most important issue is the future of democracy.

According to my colleague Geoffrey Skelley, if Trump wins by as much as the polls imply, it would be the best-ever performance for a non-incumbent presidential candidate in South Carolina primary history. (The current record is George H.W. Bush's 28-point win over Bob Dole in 1988.) Surely the Haley campaign will try to spin a victory out of defeat — Trump is no easy opponent, to be fair — but with these numbers there's simply no denying Trump's strength.

—G. Elliott Morris, 538

Welcome to 538’s South Carolina primary live blog!

Polls are open in the Palmetto State, the latest battleground in the GOP presidential primary race. You'd be justified in asking if this will also be the contest's last battleground, as Trump's commanding lead in the polls suggests he'll almost certainly walk away with all the delegates tonight and continue his march to the nomination. We'll certainly be looking out for Haley to signal what she'll do next: She's insisted that she plans to stay in the race, but a big home-state loss could throw cold water on an already-struggling campaign.

As for the timing of it all, polls will close at 7 p.m. Eastern, and we wouldn't be surprised if a winner is projected not long after. As usual, though, we plan to stick around to analyze results and candidate speeches throughout the evening. We'll also discuss how Trump got to be the overwhelming favorite on Haley's home turf, whether there are any upsides for Haley as the last challenger standing and (gulp) what it all means as we turn toward November's general election.

—Tia Yang, 538

No Labels Nikki would have quite the hill to climb

If Haley is contemplating a third party bid, she’d have a lot of ground to make up. We’ve seen only two polls testing Haley as an independent, and both show her in the low double digits: SurveyUSA/Charles H. Riggs III has her at 13 percent in a 3-way race against Trump and Biden, with Trump at 45 percent and Biden at 40 percent, and Emerson College has her at 12 percent, with Trump at 42 and Biden at 37. When you throw in Kennedy, West and Stein, she drops to 10 percent in that SurveyUSA poll.

So, if she really wanted to make a go of a third party bid, she’d have to hope something pretty dramatic happened to move voters in her direction. Otherwise, it looks like a third party bid would be DOA.

—Mary Radcliffe, 538