Home Politics South Carolina Presidential Primaries: What’s Their Impact on the Presidential Election?

South Carolina Presidential Primaries: What’s Their Impact on the Presidential Election?

by Scott Kacsmar
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South Carolina Presidential Primaries

South Carolina has long been the “First in the South” primary when it comes to determining the nominees for the Democratic and Republican parties during the primary season for a U.S. presidential election.

The Democrats already held their 2024 primary in South Carolina on February 3 and incumbent Joe Biden received 96% of the vote. The Republicans are holding their primary vote with 50 delegates on the line on February 24, and Donald Trump is a huge favorite over former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

What impact does South Carolina tend to have on the party nomination? We look back at the history of the South Carolina primary for both parties.

CandidatePartyBetOnlineBetAnySportsBookmakerBovadaEverygameHeritage Sports
Donald TrumpRepublican-105-125-104+110N/AN/A
Joe BidenDemocrat-105-110+114+120N/AN/A
Michelle ObamaDemocrat+2200+2000+2750+2500N/AN/A
Robert Kennedy Jr.Independent+2200+2200+2800+3000N/A+1400
Gavin NewsomDemocrat+3300+3000+5300+4500N/AN/A
Kamala HarrisDemocrat+3300+3300+6500+7000N/AN/A
Any Other Party+2900

South Carolina: More Important for Republicans?

The first South Carolina Republican primary was held in 1980. There have been 3 years where it was canceled (1984, 2004, 2020) due to an overwhelming favorite as the incumbent making it unnecessary.

Here are the results of the winners since 1980 and how they fared for the party nomination and the general election in November:

  • 1980: Ronald Reagan (55%) won the party nomination and the presidency.
  • 1984: Cancelled (Reagan won a 2nd term).
  • 1988: George H.W. Bush (49%) won the party nomination and the presidency.
  • 1992: George H.W. Bush (67%) retained the party nomination but lost his bid for a 2nd term to Bill Clinton
  • 1996: Bob Dole (45%) won the party nomination but lost the general election to Bill Clinton.
  • 2000: George W. Bush (53%) won the party nomination and the presidency
  • 2004: Cancelled (Bush won a 2nd term).
  • 2008: John McCain (33%) won the party nomination but lost the general election to Barack Obama.
  • 2012: Newt Gingrich (40%) edged out Mitt Romney (28%) but Romney went on to win the party nomination (lost general to Obama).
  • 2016: Donald Trump (33%) won the party nomination and the presidency.
  • 2020: Cancelled (Trump lost to Biden in the 2020 general election).

You can say the Republican results have been very predictive, as every winner in South Carolina except for Newt Gingrich (2012) went on to win the party’s nomination. Arguably, this data holds real value for individuals keen on exploring political betting sites.

The margin has also been telling, as the 3 presidents who had better than 45% of the South Carolina vote went on to win a first term as president. Bob Dole (45%), John McCain (33%) and Mitt Romney (28%) all did no better than 45% of the vote in South Carolina and failed to win the presidency.

The only person to get a low voting percentage in South Carolina and still win the presidency was Trump in 2016, with 33% of the vote. But that is another data point for why Trump’s 2016 win in the general is one of the biggest upsets in U.S. presidential history.

In 2024, Trump is projected to get around 65% of the vote in South Carolina. That would be the 2nd-highest in the history of the South Carolina Republican primary. That also could signal the end of Nikki Haley’s run if she loses that big in her home state.

South Carolina Proves Significant for the African American Vote

There is less history for the primary in South Carolina, as the first vote in 1988 was actually a caucus instead of a primary. But they have also had their say on the nominee every 4 years:

  • 1988 (caucus): Jesse Jackson (55%) beat Al Gore (17%) and Michael Dukakis (6%), but it was Dukakis who won the nomination (lost to Bush in general).
  • 1992: Bill Clinton (63%) won the party nomination and the presidency.
  • 1996: Cancelled (Clinton won a 2nd term).
  • 2000: Al Gore (92%) won the party nomination but lost the general election to George W. Bush.
  • 2004: John Edwards (45%) edged out John Kerry (30%), but Kerry won the nomination (lost to Bush in general).
  • 2008: Barack Obama (55%) won the party nomination and the presidency
  • 2012: Obama was unopposed (won 2nd term).
  • 2016: Hillary Clinton (73%) won the party nomination but lost the general election to Donald Trump.
  • 2020: Joe Biden (48%) won the party nomination and the presidency.
  • 2024: Joe Biden (96%) received all but 4% of the vote on February 3.

One noticeable difference in South Carolina is a much stronger consensus among Democratic voters than Republican voters. We have seen multiple candidates receive over 90% of the vote, and even an unknown in 1992 like Bill Clinton cleaned up with 63%.

1992 primary

Overall, 5-of-7 winners in South Carolina did go on to win the party nomination, including 5-of-6 since it became a true primary vote in 1992. John Edwards was able to capitalize on being from South Carolina and a North Carolina senator to win the state in 2004, but he eventually settled to run as John Kerry’s vice president that year. They lost to George W. Bush in November.

However, African American voters on the Democratic side have done a great job for helping their candidate secure the party nod going back to Bill Clinton in 1992. They supported his vice president (Al Gore) strongly in 2000 and they did so again with his wife Hillary in 2016.

Still, the biggest contribution was in 2020, when Joe Biden was struggling in the primary and Bernie Sanders was in the lead. The South Carolina primary started Biden’s comeback, as he got 48% of the vote to just 20% for Sanders, and Biden can thank the Black voters for that turnaround, as he went on to win the party nomination and the presidency in November.

Voters were again supportive of Biden earlier this month when he received 96% of the vote in South Carolina.

However, even if Biden makes it to November, he’ll have a hard time getting the South Carolina vote in that one, as the Palmetto State has voted Republican in 13 of the last 14 elections, including a 55.1% win for Trump in 2020.

We’ll see what the turnout is for Trump this week on the Republican side and if it’s enough to make Haley cut things short of Super Tuesday, which is March 5th.

author avatar
Scott Kacsmar
NFL football picks are Scott Kacsmar's expertise, serving as his main focus. He has contributed to various sports websites and blogs, such as NBC Sports, ESPN Insider, FiveThirtyEight, and, JoeWager. Originating from Pittsburgh, Scott maintains a love-hate connection with the Pirates.

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