Politics & Government

Biden leads new SC poll of likely 2020 Democratic presidential contenders

He’s not yet in the race, but former Vice President Joe Biden leads in a new S.C. poll of likely 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

The San Francisco-based Change Research polling firm conducted the online poll Feb. 15-18 of 1,485 registered S.C. voters in the state who identified as Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Biden was the most popular potential 2020 Democratic contender, followed by U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

S.C. primaries are open to all voters, meaning any voter can vote in the Democratic or Republican primaries.

Of the 600 voters surveyed who said they planned to cast a ballot in the 2020 S.C. Democratic primary, Biden led with 36 percent support.

Sanders, who ran in 2016 and announced Tuesday he was running again, followed with 14 percent. Harris, who made her second campaign appearance in South Carolina last weekend since announcing her candidacy, garnered 13 percent support.

The poll also found support for Booker, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, with each at about 10 percent support among likely Democratic primary voters.

Other likely candidates hoping to defeat Republican President Donald Trump in 2020 — including U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York — had 2 percent or less support each.

Fifty-five percent of the likely S.C. Democratic primary voters surveyed were African-Americans, who account for more than 60 percent of the state’s Democratic voters.

“When we only asked about already declared candidates (not including Sanders who hadn’t yet declared), black voters overwhelmingly supported Booker (38 percent) and Harris (37 percent),” said polling firm chief executive Mike Greenfield. “But with Biden, Sanders (and) Beto in the race, Biden has a clear lead among black voters, with 43 percent,” and Booker, Harris and Sanders all at 13 percent.

The poll also suggests ex-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley would be Trump’s strongest opponent in a S.C. GOP primary match-up. Still, Haley loses to the president by a 67-21 margin, according to the poll. Haley, a former S.C. governor, has said she has no plans to run in 2020.

A vast majority of Republican voters in the Palmetto State, 62 percent, said they want a 2020 GOP presidential primary. The S.C. Republican Party could decide this summer to pass on holding the primary — a move that is not unprecedented — to help Trump’s re-election bid.

GOP voters are also poised to support U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s 2020 re-election bid. But the Republican senator was generally unpopular among all voters, with 36 percent viewing Graham favorably compared to 44 percent who viewed him unfavorably.

Earlier this month, Democrat Jaime Harrison, a former S.C. Democratic Party chairman, announced he was exploring running against Graham.

Graham, a 24-year incumbent, has aligned himself with Trump closely. He finished his last reelection campaign, in 2014, with $2.4 million in cash on hand.

The top concerns among S.C. Democratic voters polled were health care, voting rights and the economy. For all voters, including Republicans and independents, the top concerns were illegal immigration, followed by jobs and the economy, and health care.

Asked whether they support Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency to build a steel wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, S.C. voters were split. Forty-three percent strongly supported the idea and 43 percent strongly opposed the move. Among Democrats, 94 percent strongly opposed the move, while 85 percent of Republicans were strongly in favor.

A majority of all voters, 55 percent, also supported a law restricting the sale of military-style assault weapons and requiring universal background checks before buying a gun, including at gun shows.

The poll’s margin of error for the 2020 Democratic race is plus or minus 4 percentage points, and 2.5 percentage points for the entire sample.

This story was updated to remove the reference of Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s planned visit to Columbia. Klobuchar visited this past Saturday, Feb. 23.
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Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.