So far, Joe Biden’s South Carolina firewall is holding according to a new poll from the Palmetto State. The NBC News/Marist poll of 539 likely Democratic primary voters (culled from 2,382 registered voters) shows Biden with a four-point lead over Democratic frontrunner Bernie Sanders. The bad news for Team Biden is that the six percent margin of error for the Democratic primary question could put the race very close.
The poll showed only three candidates with more than 10 percent support. Joe Biden led the field with 27 percent and was followed closely by Bernie Sanders at 24. Tom Steyer was in third place with 15 percent.
Pete Buttigieg led the second-tier candidates with nine percent, one point ahead of fifth-place Elizabeth Warren. Amy Klobuchar was in sixth place with five percent and Tulsi Gabbard polled last with three percent. Mike Bloomberg did not register in the poll.
Biden’s core supporters were moderates (38 percent), blacks (35 percent), and voters aged 45 and older (34 percent). In contrast, Sanders supporters were primarily younger than 45 (40 percent) and progressive (34 percent).
Other recent polls show Biden holding his lead in South Carolina as well. A Public Policy poll gave him a 15-point lead over Sanders while CBS News gave him a five-point advantage.
NBC News points out that while Biden leads with black voters, his share is less than what Hillary won in the 2016 primary. Four years ago, Hillary won the black vote in South Carolina’s primary by an 86-14 margin over Sanders. The current polling shows Sanders up to 20 percent among blacks, but Steyer is nearly as strong with 19 percent. The numbers reflect not only that Joe Biden is a damaged candidate, but also that there is a much wider field than in 2016 when it was essentially a two-person race.
At this point, many votes have already been cast in the South Carolina primary. Election Day is this Saturday, February 29, but in-person absentee voting began on January 30.
In the last days before Election Day, Joe Biden stands to benefit from the shellacking that Bernie is now taking in the media. There is also a possibility that tonight’s Democratic debate will damage Sanders as the moderate candidates gang up on the Vermont senator.
Either way, it seems likely that, after the South Carolina primary this weekend and Super Tuesday on March 3, the country will know whether Bernie Sanders will have an easy march to the Democratic nomination or whether it will be a long, brutal fight with Joe Biden.