SALVATION IN SOUTH CAROLINA
South Carolina’s Feb. 29 primary gave Biden a much needed comeback. It was the first heavily African American state to have a say, and 64% of African American voters supported Biden. The state’s voters were more enthused about restoring the Obama era compared with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. About 7 in 10 considered themselves to be moderate or conservative. More than half were nonwhite, unlike the roughly 9 in 10 white voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The delegate count was high enough in South Carolina that it shook up the field. Within 72 hours, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and billionaire Tom Steyer decided to set aside their presidential ambitions, clearing the way for Biden to build out his coalition.
Biden cemented his status a few days later during the Super Tuesday primaries on March 3. He won 10 states, including Texas, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Virginia. One key: voters making their choice in the few days before the elections, in what turned out to be a reflection of the momentum coming out of South Carolina. Across eight of the states with presidential primaries that day, 37% of voters said they made up their minds in the last few days. About half of them went to Biden.
Biden expanded his coalition among liberals, college graduates and even younger voters. Electability was at the forefront of many voters’ minds. In Minnesota, a potential November battleground, 60% of voters said it would be harder for a nominee with strong liberal views to win in the general election.
ALL BEFORE CORONAVIRUS AND GEORGE FLOYD’S DEATH
Throughout the primaries, Democratic voters said health care was the most important problem facing the nation. Climate change trailed in second place. The economy ranked a distant third. This made sense in the moment as the U.S. was coasting through the longest expansion in its history and the unemployment rate was at a half-century low of 3.5%.
But less than two weeks after the Super Tuesday primaries, everything changed.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused the unemployment rate to rocket to 13.3%, something not seen since the Great Depression. A survey in May from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found nearly 70% of the workers who lost their jobs expected to be rehired, compared with close to 80% just a month before, as the grim realities of restaurant closures and shuttered businesses become clearer.
Then there was another turn in May after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which has sparked protests across the country for racial equality. Civil rights now has joined the economy as a dominant national issue.
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