President Biden won the first Democratic primary by with 96 percent of the vote, but concern remains that he may be losing traction with black voters.
COLUMBIA, S.C.—Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) adamantly insisted that President Joe Biden’s support is rock solid among black voters moments after the president won the state’s Democratic presidential primary.
“The best illustration of that, he got 96 percent of the vote in this primary, but its largest percentage—over 97 percent—was in the town of Orangeburg where there are two HBCUs and a community college,” Mr. Clyburn told reporters at the Democratic watch party on Feb. 3.
“I go to an African American barbershop. I go to an African American Church. Joe Biden is as strong with African Americans as he has ever been,” Mr. Clyburn added.
Democrats have labored to dispel the notion that President Biden is losing popularity with black voters, a key element of the Democratic coalition, after a Dec. 12 survey by GenForward revealed that 17 percent of black Americans would vote for President Donald Trump and 20 percent said they would vote for someone other than the two major candidates.
A poll conducted by The New York Times and Siena College in November revealed that 22 percent of black voters in six battleground states vote for President Trump in 2024.
South Carolina was specifically selected to hold the nation’s first Democratic primary this year in order to give black voters, who comprise 51 percent of the state’s Democratic voters, a greater voice in the electoral process.
While the impressive margin of victory helped place President Biden in a position of strength at the beginning of the 2024 campaign, the data itself presents a mixed picture. And some, especially younger, South Carolina democrats seem resigned rather than enthusiastic about supporting his reelection.
The Black Vote
While awaiting the result of the Feb. 3 primary, Christale Spain, chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, touted an increase in voting by blacks. “From the data, we saw a 13 percent increase in black voter participation,” she told attendees at a Democratic watch party.
That data point was derived from the roughly 48,000 ballots cast during the state’s 12-day early voting period. It is not yet known how data from the remainder of the approximately 131,000 votes cast may alter that result.
Overall, voter turnout in this primary appears to have been low by historical standards. Nearly 188,000 Democratic votes were cast in the state’s 2022 midterm primary. More than 330,000 voters participated in the state’s 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
Some Democratic officials had speculated that voter turnout could be depressed by the fact that an incumbent president was facing little opposition and that some Democrats had stated an intention to vote in the Feb. 24 Republican primary to oppose President Donald Trump. Crossover voting is possible in this state with an open primary system.
Democratic leaders did not entertain the idea, at least publicly, that some Democrats may have preferred to vote for neither President Biden nor President Trump.
If that were to have been the case, President Biden could face a significant challenge in the general election. Black eligible voters are projected to number 34.4 million in November, comprising 14 percent of eligible voters, a historic high, according to Pew Research.
“I think the president needs to be concerned about black voters,” Richard Gordon, founder of Gordon Strategies and member of the chairman’s board of the Democratic Governors Association, told The Epoch Times.
“Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Georgia … were enormously close [in 2020]. And if the President were to lose, let’s say, 2 percent of the vote in each of those, he probably won’t get reelected. And that is why the black vote in all of those states is massively important,” Mr. Gordon said.
Younger People, Different Issues
Democrats are not a monolithic group, and one fissure runs along generational lines. Older, more traditional Democrats are more likely to be well satisfied with President Biden’s performance and age.
Asked if the president has an electability problem, Jim Horch, 67, an ironworker from Aiken, said, “No, I really don’t because I’ve seen President Biden give several speeches, and his fitness, in my opinion, is great.”
Younger Democrats were more likely to hedge their answer about President Biden’s electability. “I hope and pray his health remains good for the next four years,” Andrina Mullins, 40, of Florence, said.
A 31-year-old Columbia woman supporting President Biden, who asked not to be named, when asked about his electability, paused, laughed nervously, and said, “Do I have to answer that?”
Younger black Democrats may also be driven by different issues than their elders, according to Marcurius Byrd, 39, an advisor to Young Democrats of the Central Midlands.
That difference in perspective is readily seen in attitudes toward the war in Gaza, according to Mr. Byrd, who, as an older Millennial, sees himself as a bridge between generations.
Older Democrats are more likely to view support for Israel as unconditional based on their emotional memory of previous conflicts and historical support for an ally. Younger Democrats, lacking that attachment, may be more likely to evaluate the fact in a neutral manner.
“There are also the complexities of this being warfare,” Mr. Byrd said. “There’s more [to it] than just a ceasefire because ceasefire does not bring an end, and other things will be happening,” he added, “and people aren’t thinking that far ahead.”
That’s why Gen Z Democrats may be more likely to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, according to Mr. Byrd.
Younger black Democrats are more likely to mention the war in Gaza, affordable housing, and the cost of higher education as key issues. Older black Democrats are more likely to mention access to abortion, voter suppression, and preserving the gains made in civil and women’s rights as key concerns.
In South Carolina, 42 percent of registered black voters are under age 45 according to data from the South Carolina Election Commission. Nationally, 60 percent of black eligible voters are age 59 or younger according to Pew Research.
Messaging and Turnout
President Biden has had a messaging problem with some black voters, according to Mr. Gordon.
“For many people in the black community, it’s been very hard for the President to translate what he has done for them,” Mr. Gordon said. That may be easier done in a small state like South Carolina than in a battleground state like Michigan or Wisconsin, he added.
Some black Democratic leaders are aware of this communication gap. “I think my only concern is that we have to do a better job of getting the message out about why we should be voting for Joe Biden,” Isaac Wilson, 36, chair of the Florence County Democratic Party, told The Epoch Times. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting that message out.”
Regarding President Biden’s electability, Jonathan Kirkwood, 54, of Columbia, told The Epoch Times, “I don’t think that there’s a big concern, but I think that we all need to get out and vote and just make sure that that happens.”
That will involve new messaging tailored to specific demographics, according to Mr. Byrd. “He’s done a good job. The problem is, nobody knows about it,” he said. “You have to do more direct targeting.”
For some black Democrats, this comes down to a binary choice between Presidents Biden and Trump in which they believe President Biden will surely prevail.
“Do you want a competent administration led by an 81-year-old man or an incompetent administration by someone that’s pushing 80? That, I believe, is going to end up becoming the choice. And I believe that most people will vote for competence in the end,” Austin Jackson, 33, president of Young Democrats of South Carolina, told The Epoch Times.
The question is whether winning most black voters will be enough.
In 2020, President Biden won 92 percent of the black vote compared to 8 percent by President Trump. Even a relatively small change in that balance could affect the outcome of the 2024 election, according to Mr. Gordon.
“I don’t believe there is a realignment of the black vote in America. I feel there is an erosion of the black vote in America,” Mr. Gordon said. “I think it will prove relatively small when the population is confronted with a binary choice between Biden and Trump. But he doesn’t have room to lose those voters.”