Trump won big in South Carolina last night, establishing himself as the front-runner for the Republican nomination. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz came to a virtual tie for second place; Rubio beat Cruz by 0.2%. Jeb Bush came in fourth place with 7.8% of the votes and subsequently renounced his candidacy. In a short speech given from his campaign headquarters in Miami, the former governor stated “I am proud of the campaign we’ve run to unify our country… but the people of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken, and I really respect their decision.” Kasich, who was campaigning in Massachusetts at the time of the primary, came in fifth place, leaving Carson in dead last, who nonetheless assured his supporters that his campaign was just getting started.
In another speech given following the South Carolina primary, Rubio declared it “a three-person race.” Trump’s win last night is significant because of the state’s consistent track record in selecting the future Republican nominee. As the two most formidable contenders against Trump, Rubio and Cruz are trying to position themselves as the best chance against beating the Democrats in the general election. Rubio seeks to portray himself as the “new face of the GOP,” and someone who can win the Latino vote, while Cruz has branded himself as a proven Constitutional conservative.
According to exit polls, almost two thirds of South Carolina voters agree with Trump regarding the temporary banning of Muslims, who are not US citizens, from entering the United States. Eighty-two percent of GOP voters identified as conservative, up from 68% in 2012. Nearly half of GOP voters reported that a candidate who shares the same religious beliefs matters “a great deal” to them. The desire among the electorate that the next president “have experience” versus “be an outsider” was almost 50/50, with 48% preferring the former and 46% preferring the latter. Nearly everyone polled reported that they are dissatisfied with the way the federal government is working.
Voter turnout in South Carolina continued to reflect this year’s trend of higher electorate participation in early primaries. The South Carolina State Election Commission reported this week that 24.21% of registered voters across the state turned out for the Republican Presidential Primary compared to 21.60% in 2012 - which translates to over 100,000 more ballots cast. By comparison, the voter turnout in Nevada decreased significantly from last year, which Sanders blamed for his loss there.
In Nevada, Hillary Clinton won 52.7% of the vote as of Sunday, February 21 at 9AM EST with 95% of districts reporting. This is a case where Clinton’s experience was an asset. She and her campaign executed a sophisticated ground game, engendering support from Latinos and African-American voters. Bernie Sanders did not stray from his usual agenda about Wall Street, suggesting that while his consistent messaging has been seen as authentic, it may not be evolving enough for voters.
The Democrats have their primary in South Carolina next Saturday, February 27th. Now that Clinton has beat Sanders in both Iowa and Nevada, the South Carolina vote will be important for Sanders in maintaining his momentum and securing the nomination.
The increase in GOP voter turnout for the Republican Primary as opposed the decrease in voter turnout at the Nevada Democratic Caucus suggests that the GOP candidates have engaged more voters overall, including some who were previously not registered. This comes at a particularly salient moment in Party politics, after the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a staunch “originalist” and famous conservative.
With Super Tuesday just 10 days away, the presidential candidates from both parties are presumably refocusing their campaigns to address the issues that matter most to the American electorate before primaries and caucuses are held in an additional 14 states.