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South Carolina exit polls show Buttigieg and Klobuchar lagging significantly with black voters

More data is still trickling in, but the early numbers show the two struggling to pick up support.

Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg participates in a health equity discussion in Greenville, South Carolina, on February 27, 2020.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar’s campaigns have had a problem since the start. And early South Carolina exit polls confirm it: Black voters don’t back them.

According to a survey from the Washington Post, Buttigieg and Klobuchar picked up little support from black voters in the state, who make up 60 percent of the South Carolina Democratic electorate.

The exit polls, which of course are not necessarily reflective of the entirety of the final results still trickling in, show former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Buttigieg with 3 percent support among black voters and 17 percent among white voters, and Sen. Klobuchar with 1 percent support among black voters and 6 percent support among white voters. Warren, too, had a marked contrast in backing: 5 percent of black voters favored her, compared to 12 percent of white voters who did.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar campaigns in Richmond, Virginia, on February 29, 2020.
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Their respective lack of support mean that all three are trailing Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders significantly in the state, coming in a likely distant fourth-place finish at best.

South Carolina is the first big test of the amount of backing candidates can rally from black voters — and it suggests that former Vice President Joe Biden still has strong support from this key Democratic constituency. It also indicated that multiple candidates continue to struggle to connect with black voters, who make up 20 percent of the Democrats’ electorate across the country and are among the party’s most loyal voters.

Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Warren have all dealt, in part, with familiarity issues, which has led them to lag behind Sanders and Biden among black voters. But Buttigieg and Klobuchar, too, have gotten significant questions about their records on race.

Buttigieg has faced scrutiny about his time as South Bend mayor: His decisions to dismiss the city’s first black police chief, and implement a community rehabilitation program that demolished abandoned homes, are among the actions he’s been pressed on. Klobuchar has also been pushed on her record as a prosecutor in Minnesota, including a murder case involving a life sentence for a 16-year-old African American boy.

The initial numbers in South Carolina mirror a national trend.

According to a national February Quinnipiac poll, Buttigieg had 4 percent support among black voters, Klobuchar didn’t have enough to register, and Warren had 8 percent.

These numbers indicate that all three still need to build support among black voters — and fast — if they want to establish a broad-based coalition for the nomination, and perform better in a series of diverse states, moving forward.