Elizabeth Warren moves ahead of Bernie Sanders in new SC 2020 poll

Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders’ political footing has further stumbled in South Carolina while one of his U.S. Senate colleagues has gained newfound momentum in the early voting state.

That’s according to a new Winthrop University 2020 poll that shows U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts clinching 17% support among likely S.C. Democrats who plan to vote in the state’s Feb. 29 presidential primary. Warren edged out Sanders, who boasted only 8% support from Democrats in Winthrop’s poll released on Tuesday.

Warren downplayed her recent poll numbers in an interview with the Rock Hill Herald Saturday when she campaigned in front of a majority white audience at Clinton College, a historically black college. Warren polled at 9% among S.C. black Democrats, Winthrop found.

“I don’t do polls,” Warren told the newspaper. “It’s still more than four months away from the first primaries.”

Party front runner and former Vice President Joe Biden — who holds considerable support among the state’s key black voting bloc — maintained his lead in South Carolina with 37% of those surveyed but even higher among S.C. black Democrats at 46%.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California held onto fourth in the poll at 7%.

The remaining 15 candidates — including Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana; former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey — fell under 5%, but still were able to qualify for the Oct. 15 presidential primary debate in Ohio.

A third of those surveyed by Winthrop said they were sure of their Democratic presidential primary choice.

Another half of those surveyed said they might change their mind.

“African Americans constitute one of the most important constituencies for the Democratic Party,” said Scott Huffmon, poll director at Winthrop. “African Americans can make up more than 60% of the Democratic presidential primary vote in South Carolina, which is a much larger portion than in the Iowa caucus or New Hampshire primary.”

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Winthrop’s poll falls close to a CNN S.C. primary poll published Sunday, Huffmon noted on Twitter. The one major shift though between the two was support for Harris, who held only 3% in the CNN poll.

Winthrop’s poll, its first in the 2020 cycle, surveyed 462 likely S.C. Democratic voters from Sept. 21-30.

The poll has a margin of error among those voters of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.

Of white Democrats surveyed, more than half said that beating President Donald Trump in November 2020 was more important than picking a candidate based on their policy positions, compared with 35% who said beating the president was important.

The state’s Democratic voters overwhelmingly — 93% — said they disapprove of how Trump is handling his job in the White House. That compares with the 72% of South Carolina voters who identify as Republicans, who told Winthrop they approve of Trump.

Another 16% of likely S.C. GOP voters said they disapprove of the president.

Winthrop surveyed 406 likely Republican S.C. voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Tuesday was the final day 2020 Democrats could qualify for the Oct. 15 presidential primary debate, needing to meet certain polling and donor thresholds decided by the Democratic National Committee. The DNC raised its qualifications for candidates to make it onto the Ohio debate stage. They needed to get at least 5% support in two polls taken in early voting states instead of just 3% in four polls.

Twelve candidates qualified for the debate, to be hosted by CNN and The New York Times.

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.