Emerson College Releases Final South Carolina Poll

Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden speak during a break at the Democratic presidential primary debate at in Charleston, South Carolina.
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The final Emerson College/Nexstar South Carolina poll has been released, and it suggests that one candidate is breaking away from the pack, with most of the field dangerously close to single-digit territory.

According to the poll, former Vice President Joe Biden is the clear favorite, polling at 41 percent. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is in second place, with 25 percent support. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and billionaire Tom Steyer are tied for third with 11 percent.

At fourth and fifth place respectively, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is at 6 percent and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is polling at 5 percent. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has failed to make an impact in the primary race, enjoys the backing of 2 percent of the electorate.

Since March, when Emerson College’s last South Carolina poll came out, both Biden and Sanders have gained four points. Buttigieg’s support has grown by 11 points and Klobuchar’s by five. Warren and Gabbard’s support has not changed.

Forty-five percent of respondents claim to have decided who to back before the Iowa caucuses, and only 19 percent have picked their candidate in the last few days. South Carolinians are locking in on their choice, the survey suggests, with 73 percent saying they will definitely back the candidate they currently support.

Much like in all surveys, there is a stark age divide, with older voters overwhelmingly backing Biden, and younger voters going for Sanders. Among those under the age of 50, Sanders is polling at 41 percent and Biden is at 25 percent. Conversely, among voters 50 and older, Biden has 54 percent support, and Sanders is at 12 percent.

Biden enjoys the backing of the African American community, where he is leading with 48 percent. Sanders is in second place with 27 percent, and Steyer in third with 12. Among white voters, Biden is polling at 30 percent, Sanders is at 24 percent, and Buttigieg is at 18 percent.

As Spencer Kimball, Director of Emerson College Polling, explained, Biden seems poised to win his first contest, but it is unclear how his victory would affect the dynamics of the race.

“South Carolina looks like it will be the strong firewall Biden has been waiting for. If this is the case, the question will be if this is a game-changer or merely a speed bump for Sanders on his way to the nomination,” he said.

For Biden — the former front-runner who collapsed in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada — winning his longtime stronghold of South Carolina appears to be imperative. According to Jim Messina, former President Barack Obama’s campaign manager, Biden has to win in the Palmetto State in order to stay in the race.