A strong showing by President Joe Biden could alleviate concerns about his popularity within the Democratic party and effectively seal his nomination.
The South Carolina Democratic primary is the first-in-the-nation contest for Democrats, but it has drawn little attention, having been overshadowed by the unofficial result of the New Hampshire primary.
President Joe Biden holds a commanding lead in the one pre-primary poll released so far and has largely ignored Democratic challengers and campaigned chiefly against likely Republican rival former President Donald Trump.
In South Carolina, political parties often forego holding a primary when they have an incumbent president, as Democrats did in 2012.
This primary could effectively seal the nomination for President Biden, quashing doubts about his popularity within the Democratic party.
Here’s what to know about the Feb. 3 contest.
The Palmetto State has been good to President Biden. He carried the state in the 2020 Democratic primary with 48 percent of the vote in a 7-person field. That more than doubled the vote received by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent seeking the Democratic nomination.
Mr. Sanders had won the New Hampshire Democratic primary in 2020, and Pete Buttigieg, now secretary of transportation, had carried Iowa’s Democratic caucuses. President Biden credits South Carolina Democrats for his rise in the 2020 primaries and eventual election as president.
This year, at the suggestion of the president, the Democratic National Committee rearranged the party’s primary election calendar to make South Carolina the first-in-the-nation primary.
That honor had belonged to New Hampshire for decades. Iowa, too, was displaced from its position as the first Democratic contest, though it uses a caucus system rather than a primary election.
President Biden objected to giving precedence to those two states based on their lack of diversity and, in the case of Iowa, the use of a caucus system rather than an election.
“We rely on these voters in elections but have not recognized their importance in our nominating calendar. It is time to stop taking these voters for granted and time to give them a louder and earlier voice in the process.”
About 67 percent of voters in South Carolina are white, compared with 90 percent in Iowa and 94 percent in New Hampshire.
The president also criticized the caucus system as unfair to working people since a caucus is held at a particular time of day, whereas polls are open for several hours in a primary election.
“It should be our party’s goal to rid the nominating process of restrictive, anti-worker caucuses,” President Biden wrote.
South Carolina has often been the third primary election on the Democrats’ calendar, often referred to as the First in the South.
Iowa Democrats deferred to the DNC’s directive and scheduled a mail-in presidential poll with results to be announced March 5. In defiance of the DNC rule, New Hampshire Democrats held a primary election on Jan. 15.
Biden Ahead, Stakes High
President Biden leads voter polls in the race for the Democratic nomination. But many Americans doubt whether he should seek reelection, and his performance in New Hampshire’s unofficial primary on Jan. 15 was well below average for an incumbent president.
That margin of victory ranks low among incumbent presidents. Previous Democrats who went on to win the general election averaged 88 percent of the vote in New Hampshire’s primary.
If President Biden scores well in South Carolina, that could help to dispel the idea that his candidacy is unpopular among members of his own party.
South Carolina does not require affiliation with a political party to vote in primary elections. That means any registered voter may participate in either the Democratic or the Republican primary, but not both in the same year.
Independent voters in New Hampshire have the same option, and many chose to vote Republican in order to support Nikki Haley. According to exit polls conducted by CNN, 70 percent of Haley voters identified themselves as independents.
That raises the question of whether independent voters in South Carolina, Ms. Haley’s home state, will sit out the upcoming Democratic primary in order to vote in the Republican contest on Feb. 24.
The level of voter turnout on Feb. 3 might signal the intention of independent voters.
South Carolina’s primary elections have been held on a Saturday since 2008 in an effort to increase turnout. In years when both parties are conducting primaries, about 30 percent of registered voters take part, though participation varies widely by election cycle.
Democratic candidates have spent relatively little time campaigning in South Carolina this year, especially given the fact that this state’s results will be the first to accrue convention delegates.
President Biden held campaign stops in the state on Jan. 27 and 28 but has not announced that he will return before the election.
As of Jan. 30, neither Mr. Phillips nor Ms. Williamson had announced plans for a campaign stop in South Carolina prior to Feb. 3.
Polls open in South Carolina at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. on Feb. 3. News outlets typically begin broadcasting precinct-level results shortly thereafter and project a winner based on vote totals, exit polls, and voter turnout data within a few hours.
In Iowa, the result of the Jan. 15 Republican caucuses was forecast by two major networks 32 minutes after voting began and while it was still in progress in many precincts.
In New Hampshire, the winner of the Jan. 23 Republican contest was announced by some news outlets about 30 minutes after the last polls closed. The Democratic primary took longer to assess because of the high number of write-in ballots.