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AP VoteCast: Voters prioritize health care in South Carolina

A voter casts a ballot in the South Carolina primary election, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A voter casts a ballot in the South Carolina primary election, Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Voters in Saturday’s Democratic presidential primary election in South Carolina called health care the top issue facing the country today, clearly naming it as more important than the economy, climate change, immigration, race relations and guns.

That’s a change from Iowa and New Hampshire, where Democrats put climate change alongside health care as the top issue facing the country — far above all others.

About 4 in 10 voters on Saturday picked health care as the top issue, according to a wide-ranging AP VoteCast survey of the Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina. Twenty-one percent said the economy and jobs are the most important, while 14% of voters identified climate change. Roughly 1 in 10 called out race relations.

The AP VoteCast survey also found that a smaller share of Democratic voters in South Carolina than in Iowa and New Hampshire said it was more important to support a candidate who would fundamentally change how the system in Washington works than one who would restore the political system to how it was before President Donald Trump took office. Forty-five percent said they'd prefer a return to the Obama era.

Here’s a snapshot of Democratic voters in South Carolina — who they are and what matters to them — based on preliminary results from AP VoteCast, a survey of 1,499 voters, conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.

WHAT VOTERS WANT

Close to 9 in 10 Democratic voters in South Carolina said a strong leader is a very important quality in a Democratic presidential nominee, while being able to beat Trump and caring for people like them followed close behind as highly important qualities.

About 7 in 10 said it was very important that the nominee has the best policy ideas, the “right experience” or would work across party lines.

DIVIDED BY RACE

There were significant differences in vote across racial lines. African American voters in South Carolina went for former Vice President Joe Biden over any other candidate by a significant margin. Six in 10 supported him, compared with 15% supporting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and 16% for businessman Tom Steyer.

That compares with white voters, who gave comparable support to both Biden and Sanders.

DIVIDED BY AGE

As in Iowa and New Hampshire, young voters were especially likely to support Sanders, while those older were more likely to prefer Biden.

About half of voters under 30 supported Sanders; more than half of voters 45 and older chose Biden.

Among black voters, 7 in 10 ages 45 and older supported Biden. Black voters under 45 were more likely than those older to support Sanders, with about as many supporting Sanders as Biden.

DIVIDED BY GENDER

Overall, Biden held a significant advantage among women, while that edge narrowed somewhat among men.

But men under 45 were somewhat more likely to support Sanders than Biden. Young women showed similar support for the two.

THE NOMINATION PROCESS

Confidence in the Democratic Party’s nomination process was measured. Just about a quarter of South Carolina’s Democratic voters said they are very confident that the process to select a presidential nominee is fair, and about 3 in 10 express little to no confidence in the fairness of the party’s nomination process. Close to half say they are somewhat confident.

THE HEALTH CARE DIVIDE

A highly debated subject for Democrats this year, health care was named the top issue by about 4 in 10 of voters in South Carolina.

Roughly two-thirds expressed support for a proposed single-payer health care plan, one that would change the health care system so that all Americans receive insurance from a government plan instead of private insurance plans. About a third were opposed.

But a wider majority — nearly 9 in 10 voters — said they were in favor of a public option plan, one that every American could buy into if they wanted to do so.

About 6 in 10 said they favored both plans; roughly a quarter were in favor of a public option plan but not a single-payer system.

ECONOMY

Roughly 2 in 10 voters in South Carolina’s Democratic primary named the economy and jobs as the most important problem facing the country.

Among all voters, roughly three-quarters said the economic system is unfair. That includes about 4 in 10 who describe it as “very unfair.”

South Carolina voters were somewhat more likely to say their families are falling behind financially than to say they are getting ahead, though about 6 in 10 said they are holding steady.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND REPARATIONS

Roughly three-quarters of voters in the Democratic primary voiced support for reducing the criminal justice system’s focus on policing and prosecuting low-level offenses. Wide majorities of white and black voters expressed support.

But black voters were far more likely than white voters to say they are in favor of the government making cash payments to the descendants of enslaved people as reparations for slavery and racial discrimination. About 8 in 10 black voters did, compared with just about a third white voters.

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AP VoteCast is a survey of the American electorate conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for The Associated Press and Fox News. The survey of 1,499 voters in South Carolina was conducted for seven days, concluding as polls closed. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The survey is based on interviews with a random sample of registered voters drawn from the state voter file. The margin of sampling error for voters is estimated to be plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

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