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What Our Forecast Says About The South Carolina Primary At The District Level

South Carolina is the most populous state yet to vote in the Democratic primary by far. It is worth 54 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention (Iowa, the next-most delegate-rich early state, was worth 41). And like in the first three states to vote, a majority (35) of those delegates are awarded based on the results in each South Carolina congressional district; the statewide results only affect the allocation of 19 delegates.

This means South Carolina has the most congressional districts (seven) of any state to vote thus far — but with Super Tuesday coming up, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As much as I would like to, I don’t have time to take you on a 53-district tour of California between now and Tuesday, so we’re going to take a more sweeping approach to our state previews going forward. Instead of describing the characteristics of each district, we’ll direct your attention to a few key districts and explain why we’re watching them. But don’t worry — we’ll still let you know what our primary forecast says in each district. For example, here is our average forecast for each candidate’s vote share across South Carolina as of 7 a.m. Eastern on Feb. 29, when we froze the forecast.

Biden dominates across South Carolina

Average forecasted vote share for the top six Democratic presidential candidates in South Carolina congressional districts, according to the FiveThirtyEight model as of 7 a.m. on Feb. 29

District Biden Sanders Steyer Buttigieg Warren Klobuchar
SC-01 34% 23% 11% 12% 9% 6%
SC-02 37 22 12 10 8 5
SC-03 37 21 14 10 8 5
SC-04 38 24 11 9 9 5
SC-05 42 21 12 9 8 4
SC-06 48 17 16 6 5 3
SC-07 40 20 15 9 7 5
State 40 21 13 9 8 5

Just as former Vice President Joe Biden has opened up a sizable statewide lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders this week, he now has comfortable leads in all seven districts and should snag a majority of their delegates. But the size of those leads ranges from 11 points to 32 points — and other candidates are stronger in some districts than others as well.

The center of the action in South Carolina is the 6th Congressional District, which reaches into the urban cores of Columbia and Charleston; it is worth eight pledged delegates, the most of any South Carolina district. It’s little surprise, then, that candidates are investing significant field resources into it. Three of Biden’s seven South Carolina field offices are located here, as are two of Tom Steyer’s three. Sen. Elizabeth Warren also has a strong presence here (three offices), though it’s a smaller share of her overall operation (10 offices statewide).

We are forecasting Biden to get 48 percent of the vote here, on average — well above his statewide performance of 40 percent. We are also forecasting Steyer (16 percent) to do well enough to almost tie Sanders (17 percent) in the district. Our forecast predicts Biden will win 5.4 pledged delegates, on average, while Sanders will win 1.3 and Steyer 1.2.

Biden’s and Steyer’s relative strength in the district can largely be attributed to their strength with black voters, who make up 57 percent of the district’s population. (No other South Carolina district has a black population larger than 29 percent.) House Majority Whip James Clyburn also represents this district in Congress, and the power broker has endorsed Biden, which could carry outsized weight with his constituents. Candidates like former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar aren’t expected to do well here, as they haven’t made many inroads with black voters. And although Sanders performs respectably among African Americans in polls, he is even stronger with white voters, so he underperforms his statewide forecast (21 percent) in this majority-black district.

The 1st Congressional District, which runs along much of the South Carolina coast and includes the remainder of the Charleston area, is also a valuable prize (worth six pledged delegates). It is the most college-educated and wealthiest1 district in South Carolina, which has helped make it competitive in the Trump era — six years after Mitt Romney carried it by 18 points, it elected a Democratic congressman in 2018. Since black voters make up a relatively small part of the Democratic electorate here, it’s forecasted to be Biden’s worst district, although he still wins it over Sanders, 34 percent to 23 percent, on average.

In 2016, Sanders got 34 percent of the vote in the South Carolina 1st, which actually made it one of his best districts in the state (he got 26 percent overall). Accordingly, we’re also forecasting it to be one of his best areas in 2020. We anticipate that the 1st District will be Buttigieg’s and Klobuchar’s best district, too, because so many of their supporters are college-educated white voters. If Buttigieg wins any delegates out of South Carolina, they will likely be from here — but we currently expect both Buttigieg and Klobuchar to fall below the 15-percent threshold for getting delegates.

The results in the 4th Congressional District may be interesting, if only as a curiosity — worth four pledged delegates, it’s not exactly pivotal to the Democratic race. In 2016, this upstate district was Sanders’s best by a hair, and our model thinks it will be again, giving him 24 percent of the vote here, on average. We’re also forecasting this to be Warren’s best district and Steyer’s worst. Demographically, the 4th District stands out for being South Carolina’s most urban district (centering on the cities of Greenville and Spartanburg) and for having one of the state’s smallest black populations. It is also home to many colleges and universities, especially in Spartanburg; Sanders even held a rally at one on Thursday night.

The state’s other districts are less noteworthy. Reliably Republican in general elections, they each send five or fewer pledged delegates to the DNC. Take the 3rd Congressional District, worth a scant three pledged delegates — none of the top six candidates has opened a single field office there. And each candidate is forecasted to come pretty close to their statewide vote shares in these districts; for instance, the 2nd Congressional District, being a smidge more affluent and college-educated than the state average, is relatively good for Buttigieg and Sanders and relatively bad for Biden and Steyer, but the differences aren’t worth writing home about. In case you’re wondering, our model thinks the 5th Congressional District and the 7th Congressional District will be the best bellwethers for the state as a whole, so if you’re following along with us on election night, each candidate’s vote share there should be pretty close to his or her statewide number.

Joshua Darr contributed research.

Who’s ahead heading into South Carolina?


  1. By median household income.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.