Poll: Edwards' S.C. Lead Narrows

EDWARDS: Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., laughs during a town hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H. Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2004. AP

Senator John Edwards remains ahead of Senator John Kerry among South Carolina's likely Democratic primary voters -- with the winning candidate likely to be determined by the turnout and the preference of the state's African-American voters.

In a CBS News Poll conducted Saturday and Sunday, Edwards is the choice of 28 percent of likely primary voters, while 24 percent choose Kerry. Al Sharpton and Wesley Clark are barely in double digits, with Howard Dean and Joe Lieberman even further back.

CHOICE FOR DEMOCRATIC NOMINATION
(Likely primary voters)

Edwards
Now
28%
1/28-30
28%

Kerry
Now
24%
1/28-30
21%

Sharpton
Now
13%
1/28-30
8%

Clark
Now
10%
1/28-30
13%

Dean
Now
8%
1/28-30
11%

Lieberman
Now
6%
1/28-30
4%

Kucinich
Now
0%
1/28-30
1%

Undecided
Now
11%
1/28-30
13%

Edwards' lead appears to have narrowed slightly over the weekend. However, much of the change has come from changes in the opinions of African-Americans, both in their support for Kerry and in their interest in casting a ballot in Tuesday's primary.

Edwards' support among white voters remains high -- he leads Kerry by nearly two to one among white voters, as he has in previous CBS News South Carolina polls. But both Kerry and Al Sharpton run ahead of Edwards among black voters, with Kerry's share increasing slightly since last week. The percentage of blacks saying they are undecided has dropped over the weekend.

CHOICE FOR DEMOCRATIC NOMINATION
(Likely primary voters)

Edwards
Whites
39%
Blacks
18%

Kerry
Whites
22%
Blacks
24%

Sharpton
Whites
3%
Blacks
24%

Clark
Whites
12%
Blacks
8%

Dean
Whites
7%
Blacks
9%

Lieberman
Whites
7%
Blacks
3%

Kucinich
Whites
0%
Blacks
0%

Undecided
Whites
10%
Blacks
13%

South Carolina has no party registration, and all registered voters, whatever their party identification, can participate in the Democratic primary (and in fact, one in ten of those who say they are likely to vote on Tuesday call themselves Republicans). In the weekend polling, blacks made up more than 40 percent of the likely Democratic primary turnout -- and the larger the share of the vote African-Americans cast on Tuesday, the closer the race could be.

There is still a significant amount of fluidity in candidate support. Just about half the likely voters are either undecided or say their minds could still change. Edwards' and Sharpton's voters are the most committed: two-thirds say their minds are made up. Just over half of Kerry's voters say that they won't change their minds.

JOBS AND ELECTABILITY

The critical issue in this campaign continues to be jobs -- picked by 40 percent -- more than twice the percentage who mention health care, which was the most important issue to New Hampshire primary voters last week.

MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE
(Likely primary voters)

Jobs
40%
Health care
19%
Education
14%
Iraq
8%
Taxes
7%

But electability also matters, especially to Kerry's voters. 58 percent of all likely Democratic primary voters say the candidates' positions on the issues are more important than his being able to beat George W. Bush, and 37 percent say choosing a nominee who can win is more important than agreement on the issues. Edwards' supporters choose agreement on issues over electability. But it's the opposite among Kerry's voters. 37 percent say agreeing with his positions on the issues is more important to them, while 59 percent say that it is being able to win in November.

MORE IMPORTANT FOR YOUR CHOICE
Likely primary voters)

Agree with candidate's issue positions
All voters
58%
Edwards voters
59%
Kerry voters
37%

Think candidate can win in November
All voters
37%
Edwards voters
38%
Kerry voters
59%

When all likely primary voters are asked which candidate has the best chance of winning in November, the answer is Kerry: 43 percent say Kerry is the candidate who could beat Bush, 23 percent say it is Edwards.



This poll was conducted among a statewide random sample of 777 registered voters, including 433 likely Democratic primary voters, sampled from lists of registered voters and supplemented by voters interviewed from a random sample of South Carolina telephone numbers that are unlisted. Interviews were conducted January 31-February 1, 2004. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus four percentage points for results based on the full sample of registered voters and plus or minus five percentage points for results based on likely Democratic primary voters.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.


  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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