COLUMBIA, S.C. — Barack Obama leads Hillary Clinton a little more than a week before the South Carolina Democratic primary, as the state's large African-American population moves solidly behind him, according to a new McClatchy-MSNBC poll.
The poll underscored a racial divide in the state over the showdown between an African-American man and a white woman. South Carolina is the first state with a large African-American population to vote in this year's Democratic campaign.
The poll showed Obama, an Illinois senator, leading among African-Americans by a better than 2-1 ratio. Clinton, a New York senator, led among whites by 2-1. Overall, that translates to nearly a 10-point lead for Obama.
"Voters are breaking along racial lines," said Brad Coker, the managing partner of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, which conducted the survey. "Racial voting patterns are going to play a major role."
A white man, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, was a distant third in the survey and didn't appear to be factor yet in his native-born state.
The poll showed more than half the likely vote coming from African-Americans — 54-43 percent — and a bigger female turnout than male, 59-41 percent.
The poll's findings that 15 percent remain undecided — enough to swing the eventual vote — are noteworthy. Also, 1 in 5 who did support candidates said they still might change their minds. Edwards' supporters were more likely to change their minds.
The results came after days of verbal warfare between Clinton and Obama supporters over her comments that it took President Lyndon Johnson to accomplish, with civil rights legislation, the dreams of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Obama supporters accused Clinton of besmirching King. The two blamed aides and overzealous supporters for the fracas during a debate earlier this week.
In South Carolina, the poll showed this landscape among likely voters heading into the primary Jan. 26:
Obama, 40 percent.
Clinton, 31 percent.
Edwards, 13 percent.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, 1 percent.
Undecided, 15 percent.
Two key events could influence voters before the primary: Democratic caucuses Saturday in Nevada, and a debate Monday in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Also, all the candidates will flood into the state after Nevada and spend much of next week courting South Carolina voters.
As they do, they'll find a state in which Obama has a lead among men, young voters and Democrats.
He also has an edge over Clinton among women, 39-34 percent. He led among women in Iowa, where he won the overall vote, but trailed among women in New Hampshire, where he lost.
His biggest advantage is among those voters who are looking for change, where he leads Clinton by 65-7.
Clinton has an edge among those older than 50. Among those looking for experience she had an overwhelming 81-7 advantage over Obama.
Edwards, who needs to win the state, had few signs of strength.
He appeared squeezed by the white vote — he had more white support than Obama but less than Clinton — and frozen out of the black vote — he had only 2 percent of the African-American support.
Clinton and Obama essentially divided the vote on those most interested in Iraq, the economy and health care, while Edwards lagged among all three groups.
His strongest asset was honesty. Among those voters who are looking for honesty as the top trait in a candidate, a plurality supported Obama, but the rest preferred Edwards over Clinton by 2-1.
VIEW THE POLL DATA
PDF | South Carolina Democrats
HOW WE POLL
The McClatchy-MSNBC Poll is a snapshot of voter opinion at the time it was conducted. It isn't a prediction of how people will vote on Election Day.
The Mason-Dixon poll of 400 likely Democratic primary voters in South Carolina was conducted by telephone Monday through Wednesday. Those interviewed were selected by a random variation of telephone numbers from a cross-section of telephone exchanges. That means that anyone in the state with a phone line had the same odds of being called as anyone else, except for people who use only cell phones. Cell phone numbers aren't in the exchanges.
The margin of error was plus or minus 5 percentage points. That means that 95 percent of the time, the correct numbers could be as many as 5 percentage points above the poll's findings, or as many as 5 percentage points below them. The remaining 5 percent of the time, the correct numbers could vary even more.
The sampling margin of error doesn't include other variables that could affect results, including the way questions are worded or the order in which they're asked.