Nobody expected Bernie Sanders to win South Carolina. Entering Saturday’s primary, he was down an average of nearly 28 points. But Sanders didn’t just lose; Hillary Clinton annihilated him, winning by 47.5 points.
The magnitude of Clinton’s victory — in particular among African-American voters — raises serious questions about the viability of Sanders’ 2016 bid.
Here’s what you need to know.
Clinton knocked it out of the park?
As good as New Hampshire was to Bernie Sanders, South Carolina was even better to Hillary Clinton. Most striking: Clinton beat Sanders on his core issue. South Carolina voters who care most about income inequality voted for Clinton 63-37.
Clinton ran away with this election, winning nearly every important demographic, according to the exit polls. She took more than 75 percent of voters over the age of 30. Her only notable deficit was voters 29 and under — and there the margin was far narrower than in previous contests (less than 10 points).
Even the character issues that have dogged Clinton in the other early voting states seemed a nonissue on Saturday night. Clinton edged Sanders 51-49 among voters looking for the “honest and trustworthy” candidate.
By the end of the night, Clinton had also run up the score in the battle for convention delegates, winning 39 to Sanders’ 14.
Did the Clinton “firewall” hold?
Clinton won among African-American voters by a margin of 86-14. Black women chose Clinton 89-11.
This is a ringing endorsement of Clinton by black voters, make no mistake. But these numbers look like something else, too: A key component of the Democratic electorate exercising a veto of the Sanders candidacy.
The Vermont senator has worked diligently to make inroads with African-American voters. Sanders — who as a young man marched on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King and got arrested in Chicago protesting segregation — has embraced the Black Lives Matter movement. He highlights black youth unemployment, the racism of the drug war and militarized policing in his stump speech. He campaigns with Cornel West and Killer Mike, and even picked up an endorsement from Spike Lee last week.
But there was no payoff Saturday night. Black voters in South Carolina punished Sanders by the kinds of margins you’d expect if his name were Donald J. Trump.
Was there a big turnout?
Here’s where things start to look worse for Sanders. His path to victory depends on what he calls a “political revolution,” a movement that draws new and unlikely voters to the polls. But turnout in South Carolina was way down from the 2008 battle between Clinton and Obama — lower by nearly a third. Here’s an eye-popping stat for you: Sanders’ 2016 vote total would have barely beaten that of 2008’s third wheel, John Edwards.
What does this mean for Super Tuesday?
Clinton comes out of South Carolina having beaten heady expectations and carrying momentum into the Super Tuesday primaries.
Many of these contests are in Southern states with large African American populations, including Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Virginia, Tennessee and Texas.
If South Carolina is not an outlier, Clinton could win huge down South, banking a sizable delegate advantage, and begin to recapture the aura of inevitability with which she began this campaign.