Hillary Clinton’s SC Win Is All About the Power of the Black Vote

The Democratic presidential candidate won so much of the black vote in South Carolina that it may spell doom for Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the long term.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gives a victory speech to supporters at an event on Feb. 27, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. Clinton defeated rival Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) in the Democratic South Carolina primary.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gives a victory speech to supporters at an event on Feb. 27, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. Clinton defeated rival Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) in the Democratic South Carolina primary. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hammered Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with a revolutionary win of her own in South Carolina Saturday. And not by a little—by a lot. Black voters, making up 61 percent of voters in the Democratic South Carolina primary, rocketed her to victory.

Clinton beat Sanders in South Carolina by a stunning 73 percent to 26 percent in a trouncing that few predicted. Polls before the race showed Clinton ahead by 25 points. She was victorious by a much higher percentage. Clinton also won by over 175,000 votes. 

According to exit polling, African-American voters supported Clinton by a larger percentage than they did Barack Obama in 2008. Eight years ago, Obama won 78 percent of black South Carolina voters. Last night, Clinton won black voters in the state by 84 percent to 13 percent for Sanders, according to exit polls. If what she accomplished last night holds for Super Tuesday, the Democratic race will be effectively over by Wednesday morning.  

Why could Super Tuesday be so decisive? Because it will heavily feature black voters. Tuesday is the biggest day of the 2016 primary season, and black voters will figure prominently in the Democratic race in Georgia (31 percent black), Virginia (20 percent black), Alabama (26 percent black) and Arkansas (16 percent black). Texas, which is 12 percent black and 38 percent Hispanic, will also be a state to watch, since Sanders has yet to prove that he can win any segment of the Democratic coalition other than white progressives.

Sanders is expected to win Minnesota and Massachusetts on Tuesday. What he’s not expected to do is win more delegates. Clinton picked up 39 more Saturday night for a total of 544 to Sanders’ 85 (including superdelegates). The Democratic nominee will need 2,383 to win the nomination.  

Although the final numbers are not in, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting, it’s likely true that Hillary Clinton could have won South Carolina without a single white vote cast on Saturday. That’s how huge the margin of black voters was for her.  

In 2008, in a three-person race among Clinton, then-Sen. Obama and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), Clinton received 141,217 votes, 153,997 votes fewer than Obama, who earned a total of 298,214 votes eight years ago. But last night Clinton got 271,367, not far off Obama’s winning 2008 number.

Still, in a big difference from 2008, Democratic voter turnout has been lower than Republican turnout in the early primary states. A total of 369,240 people voted in South Carolina yesterday. In 2008 the total vote number was 532,468. This may be a problem for the Democrats in November, but it could be theorized that the lower turnout on the Democratic side is related to the number of candidates in the race. With so many Republicans running, there are more campaigns involved in the turnout effort. 

So what does Sanders’ loss tell us? Sanders had 200 paid staff members in South Carolina, many times more than Clinton, yet even with more staff and operatives on the ground, he failed to connect with black voters.

Another open secret may have been confirmed in South Carolina: Endorsements don’t win votes. Sanders enjoyed the endorsements of director Spike Lee, legendary actor and activist Harry Belafonte, rapper Michael “Killer Mike” Render and even Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary Bob Reich. But did it matter? 

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