When the polls have you ahead by around 30 points, beating expectations is a pretty tough ask. Yet that’s exactly what Hillary Clinton did in South Carolina’s Democratic primary, crushing Bernie Sanders 73 per cent to 26 per cent.
Clinton owes that huge margin to overwhelming support from African American voters. According to the exit polls, 61 per cent of those who voted yesterday were black, and 86 per cent of them voted for Hillary. That’s a bigger share than the 78 per cent Barack Obama won against her in 2008.
The result is to some degree a vindication of Clinton’s strategy of praising Obama’s presidency and presenting herself as the best person to further the progress he’s made – rather Sanders’ more critical approach to the Democratic incumbent. That difference between the candidates hasn’t been lost on voters: Clinton has consistently won by big margins among those saying “the next President should continue Obama’s policies”, whereas Sanders has done the same among those who think “the next President should be more liberal”. But whereas those two groups were more evenly balanced in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, in South Carolina the “continue Obama’s policies” voters outnumbered the “more liberal” ones by more than four to one.
When Sanders lost in Nevada last weekend, he said “and now it’s on to Super Tuesday”, conveniently pretending that South Carolina didn’t exist (despite spending $1 million on ads there in the past months and employing 200 paid staffers in the state). A few of the 11 states where Democrats will vote on Tuesday present good opportunities for Sanders – not least his home state of Vermont, where the polls have him leading with 86 per cent to Clinton’s 10 per cent (a result that would give him all of the state’s 16 convention delegates). He’ll be hoping to win big there, as well as in Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oklahoma, where there are fewer black voters and the demographics are relatively favourable to him.
It’s unlikely to be a particularly happy night for him overall though, as Clinton looks set to rack up a large delegate lead with sizeable wins in the other six states – all southern states where African Americans make up a large share of Democratic voters. She’s leading by more than 20 points in every one of those six states.
Given current polling and the states’ demographics, my back-of-the-envelop estimate has her winning around 60 per cent of the delegates available on Tuesday and emerging with around 200 more pledged delegates than Bernie Sanders – on top of the lead of 433 she already has among the party’s superdelegates. After that, Sanders can hang around to make some noise (he’s certainly got enough fundraising power to do so) but he’d have to win by big margins in states he’s currently losing by big margins (like Michigan, Florida, Illinois and Ohio) to really worry Hillary.