Black Vote Was Vital, But Not the Whole Story

By Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 27, 2008

Overwhelming support from African American voters fueled Sen. Barack Obama's big win in yesterday's South Carolina Democratic primary, but he also continued to demonstrate broad appeal across racial lines, particularly among younger, better-educated and wealthier voters.

Black voters made up 55 percent of primary voters, up from 47 percent in 2004, and nearly eight in 10 supported Obama in South Carolina, according to National Election Pool exit poll results. White voters split more evenly, with 40 percent supporting former senator John Edwards (N.C.), 36 percent backing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and 24 percent opting for Obama (Ill.).

As he has elsewhere, Obama scored better among younger white voters, and among those with higher incomes and more education. Half of white voters younger than 30 voted for Obama, as did about one-third of those with at least a college degree and a similar percentage of those with family incomes of $100,000 or more. Edwards did particularly well among white voters who said they made their final decision on a candidate within the three days leading up to the vote.

And as in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, Obama also excelled among those voters seeking a change-oriented candidate. Eight in 10 whites who voted for Obama said bringing about "needed change" was the most important candidate quality. More than half of all voters said change was the top attribute.

Overall, 78 percent of black voters supported Obama, 19 percent backed Clinton and 2 percent opted for Edwards. Obama had similarly large advantages among black women and black men and among younger and older African Americans.

He also registered big wins among African Americans in Iowa and Nevada, where black voters were a much smaller share of the electorates. That trend could be a factor in several states that will vote Feb. 5. In 2004, black voters made up nearly half of all voters in Georgia, one in five in New York and Tennessee, and about one in six in Delaware and Missouri. Louisiana, which holds its primary on Feb. 9, had about equal percentages of black and white voters in 2004. African American voters will also be a big factor in other states holding primaries on Feb. 5, including Alabama, Illinois and New Jersey.

About seven in 10 white voters said they would be satisfied if Obama became the nominee; eight in 10 African Americans would be happy with Clinton as the party's choice. But here, too, there were differences in levels of enthusiasm. More than eight in 10 black voters said they would be "very satisfied" with Obama as the party's nominee, but 38 percent of white voters made the same statement.

The exit poll was conducted by Edison-Mitofsky for the National Election Pool. The results from the full survey have a four-point margin of error.

Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

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