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How Hillary Clinton won South Carolina

Clinton and African American voters

Hillary Clinton won a resounding victory in the South Carolina Democratic primary with the overwhelming support of African-American voters. South Carolina was the first state to test Clinton's standing among black voters. Today's results suggest that she is extremely popular among blacks who trust her -- far more than Bernie Sanders -- to handle the important problems facing the country.

According to the CBS News South Carolina exit poll, 86 percent of African Americans voted for Clinton. Clinton beat Sanders among young and older blacks, among those with and without a college education, and among more and less affluent blacks. Eighty-three percent of African Americans said that Clinton is honest and trustworthy, and 88 percent said they trust her to handle race relations. 94 percent of blacks said they would be satisfied if Clinton were the Democratic nominee.

Clinton has been strongly emphasizing her ties to Barack Obama in this campaign and it appears that this is resonating with African Americans. Eighty-eight percent of blacks in the exit poll said they wanted the next president to continue Obama's policies, and Clinton was the overwhelming choice of these black voters.

African Americans in South Carolina turned out in large numbers Saturday. According to the exit poll, 61 percent of voters were black; only 35 percent were white. What is somewhat surprising is that blacks made up a larger part of the Democratic primary vote today than eight years ago when Barack Obama was running for the nomination.

Bernie Sanders' image among those African Americans who voted today is much more negative. Only 52 percent said he was honest and trustworthy. Forty-eight percent said they trust him to handle race relations. Only 38 percent said they trust him to handle and international crisis. And, most critically, only 50 percent said they would be satisfied if he became the Democratic nominee; 43 percent would be dissatisfied. If the results of the South Carolina primary are any indication, Sanders has a long way to go to make substantial inroads into the black Democratic vote.

Women voters

Hillary Clinton continues to do well among women, particularly women over 45 years of age. In the exit poll, Clinton won 79 percent of women's votes and 81 percent of women over 45. She won 60 percent of white female voters and 63 percent of white female voters over 45. There was a substantial gender gap among white voters with white men giving her only 44 percent of their votes. The gender gap was much smaller among African-Americans. Eighty-nine percent of black women voted for Clinton compared to 82 percent of white men.

White voters

Clinton not only won the African-American vote by a very large margin, she also did better among South Carolina white voters than she had in three previous contests this year. Overall, the exit poll showed that she beat Sanders by 54 percent to 46 percent. Sanders continues to do well among young white voters, winning 64 percent to 36 percent among white voters under 45 while Clinton did equally well among white voters over 45 who were 65 percent of the white voters in the election. Sanders beat Clinton among voters who said they were very liberal, 52 percent to 48 percent, while Clinton edged him among those who said they were somewhat liberal and moderate.

The issues

South Carolina Democratic primary voters are very worried about the future of the U.S. economy and believe that the economy is biased in favor of the wealthy. Fifty percent said they are very worried about the direction of the economy in the next few years and 34 percent said they were somewhat worried. Almost 8 in 10 believe that U.S. economic system generally favors the wealthy.

Given those concerns, it's not too surprising that 44 percent of voters in our exit poll said that the economy and jobs are the most important issue facing the country. Twenty-one percent said that health care was the most important issue and the same number cited income inequality. Only 10 percent of Democratic voters listed terrorism as the most important issue facing the country.

Clinton received 75 percent or more of the votes of those who said economy and jobs, health care, and terrorism are the most important issues. She slipped a bit only among those think income inequality is the most important issue, topping Sanders by a 63 percent to 37 percent margin.

A candidate who "cares about people like me" and who has the right experience were the qualities that South Carolina voters said most mattered in their decision today. Smaller numbers wanted a candidate who is honest and trustworthy while only about 1 in 10 said that someone who can win in November was most important. Impressively, Clinton beat Sanders among all of these groups of voters, although just narrowly among those who most wanted a candidate who is honest and trustworthy.

The road ahead

This should be a reassuring victory for Hillary Clinton, not just in the size of the win, which looks to be even larger then predicted by the pre-election polls, but in what it suggests for Super Tuesday and beyond. African-Americans make up a large fraction of the Democratic electorates in many of the states that will vote on Tuesday and Clinton demonstrated great strength among blacks in South Carolina today. She also topped Sanders among white voters. If this continues it will make it difficult for Bernie Sanders to win many of the Super Tuesday contests.

Stanley Feldman is a political science professor at Stony Brook University and author of the book Going to War in Iraq: When Citizens and the Press Matter