Obama’s share of the white vote in South Carolina

Barack Obama received 55% of the votes in South Carolina yesterday — doubling Clinton’s share of the vote (27%). Here’s how the Washington Post described Obama’s victory:

CHARLESTON, S.C., Jan. 26 — Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois won the South Carolina primary in a landslide Saturday, attracting a biracial coalition that gave his candidacy a much-needed boost as the Democratic presidential race moves toward a 22-state showdown on Feb. 5. (emphasis added)

Obama also claimed to have put together a biracial coalition. Here’s the LA Times report:

“The choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders,” Obama told a boisterous crowd in Columbia that repeatedly interrupted his remarks with cheers. “It’s not about rich versus poor, young versus old, and it is not about black versus white. This election is about the past versus the future.”

The outcome of the Democratic contest, after a week of racially charged campaigning, also suggested divisions that flew in the face of Obama’s message of unity. The Illinois senator won 4 out of 5 black votes in the state Saturday versus 1 out of 4 white votes, according to exit polls. (emphasis added)

So which is it? If Obama won only one of four white votes, does that mean he failed to elicit biracial support?

Bear in mind that there were three strong contenders in this campaign. In fact, Edwards (39%) received a larger share of the white vote than Clinton (36%). If the white vote had been split evenly between the three candidates, each would have received 33% of the vote.

So there is a gap, but not such a large one. Obama received 25% of the white vote when he might have expected a 33% share. And, as Noam Scheiber points out, Obama tied Clinton among white men. So his claim is still accurate:  he appeals to both white voters and black voters.

As Obama put it in his victory speech:

We have the most votes, the most delegates, and the most diverse coalition of Americans that we’ve seen in a long, long time.

Obama and Michelle Obamaphoto credit: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

I think this was John Edwards’s last gasp. He received 18% of the vote in South Carolina. That counts as a disappointing finish for him:  South Carolina is his home state, and he won the state in 2004.

The key figure is 15% in Democratic primaries:  if a candidate attracts less than 15% of the vote, s/he receives zero delegates. My guess is, Edwards won’t reach the 15% threshold in any state on Feb. 5.

If so, the big question is, where will Edwards’s share of the vote go:  to Clinton or to Obama?

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