Black Voters Lift Obama to S.C. Victory

Obama showing among white voters in S.C. indicates uphill battle ahead.


Jan. 26, 2008 — -- 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.

Still, despite the divisiveness of the campaign, the exit poll results also indicated a willingness to come together after the party selects its nominee. Three-quarters said that ultimately they'd be satisfied with Clinton as the party's nominee; even more, 83 percent, said they'd be satisfied with Obama. The question wasn't asked about Edwards.

But there are still divisions. Whites were 10 points more likely than blacks to say they'd be "very satisfied," 45-35 percent, with Clinton as the nominee. Nearly all blacks -- 95 percent -- said they'd be satisfied if Obama wins the nomination but that sentiment dropped to seven in 10 among white voters. And there was a 43-point racial gap among those who would be "very satisfied" to have Obama run in November -- 81 percent of blacks versus 38 percent of whites. Three in 10 whites said they'd be dissatisfied with Obama as the nominee, versus just 4 percent of blacks.

Most Democratic voters appeared cautiously optimistic that the country is ready to elect either a black or a woman candidate. About three-quarters believe this is so; however, fewer said the country's "definitely" ready to do so -- just over four in 10 said the country is definitely ready for a black president, and a third said that about a woman president.

In another notable demographic trend, the primary electorate was more liberal than in the past: Forty-four percent described themselves as liberals, compared with 39 percent in 2004 and 27 percent in 1992. (There were no South Carolina Democratic primaries in 2000 or 1996.)

As in other states, the economy weighed heavily on voters minds; just over half called it the most important issue in their vote, ranking it No. 1 by a wide margin. Small wonder, given that nearly everyone -- nine in 10 -- rated the economy as not so good or poor.

On attributes, more than half said they were looking primarily for a candidate who can "bring about needed change." As in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, "change" was the most sought-after attribute for Democrats by a wide margin. And as in those earlier states, Obama best capitalized on that desire. In South Carolina tonight, Obama took three-quarters of these "change" voters.

And just as in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, Clinton captured voters looking for a candidate with the right experience -- by wide margins. Here she won 84 percent of them, with Obama and Edwards in single digits. But as in those earlier states, it was not the top concern for voters. In South Carolina, just 14 percent said having the right experience was the most important attribute.

Clinton showed vulnerability among voters looking mainly for the candidate who "cares about people like me" -- about a quarter of voters, which Obama and Edwards essentially split at 40 and 43 percent, respectively.

Much attention was paid to Bill Clinton's campaigning in the state. The exit poll found that 58 percent of voters saw his campaigning as very or somewhat important in their vote; Obama won this group, but Clinton did better against Edwards with these voters than others. And among the 26 percent who said her husband's efforts were "very important" to them, she led Obama, barely, 46 to 42 percent. Even with her loss, Bill Clinton's efforts do look to have helped his wife.

Finally, Edwards increased his support among white voters in the last three days, with the 23 percent of whites deciding in the last three days breaking 50 percent for Edwards to 25 percent for Clinton and 24 percent for Obama. The white voters who decided earlier preferred Clinton by 40 percent to 37 percent for Edwards and 24 percent for Obama.

ABC News' Robert Shapiro, Patrick Moynihan and Peyton Craighill contributed to this report.