The South Carolina Blowout

Analysts will spend the next few days sorting through the exit poll data, checking "crosstabs" to determine how and why Barack Obama managed to lap Hillary Clinton, beating her by 28 points, 55% to 27% in South Carolina’s primary. But, three facts stand out. Hillary Clinton lost the female vote. 61% of the voters in South Carolina were women and Barack won them by 54% to 30%. Part of the reason has to do with the way black women voted, but surely part of it has to do with the prominent role Bill Clinton assumed in South Carolina. Many conservative Democrats do not relish the prospect of Bill back in the White House with nothing to do all day. Seriously, many conservative voters have never forgiven Bill for risking his presidency and his marriage for a self-indulgent affair. Conservative commentator Bill Bennett is not the only person who wishes the Clintons would just leave. 58% of the South Carolina electorate said that Bill Clinton’s campaigning was important to their decision, and they did not view that import with favor, backing Barack by 48% to 37%. Look for Bill to be less prominent going forward. Similarly, Barack trounced Clinton among church-goers. Voters who said they attended church at least weekly broke for Barack by a margin of 58% to 27%. Those who attend church occasionally favored him by a smaller margin, 50% to 28%. And voters who said they "never" attend church supported Hillary with 38% of the vote to Barack’s 31%. Like Independent voters, church-goers represent a group among whom Democrats need to perform better than in years past. For those considering the candidates’ prospects in November, this is the most important number from the South Carolina polls, and it favors Barack’s campaign enormously. But, the greatest news, not for any one campaign but as far as the future of the nation is concerned, had to do with white voters under the age of 30. Barack took 52% of their votes. There is no way of knowing if enough under-30s will turn out on February 5 to move any states into Barack’s column. But, whether Barack wins or loses, the fact that 50% of white young people in South Carolina crossed the racial divide to vote for him means that the divide is, for them, much lower and less treacherous than it was for their parents’ generation. The most intractable issue in the history of America – race – has become a whole let less intractable in the past few decades. Whether it will be enough for Barack to win, we do not know. But, last night, Barack and the rest of America saw the promised land. Michael Sean Winters
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