2020 election: Pete Buttigieg polling at zero with black voters in key South Carolina primary

Chris Stevenson

Democratic 2020 candidate Pete Buttigieg is polling at zero per cent support from black voters in South Carolina according to a new survey – giving the Indiana mayor a big problem in an important primary state.

South Carolina, an early primary contest where black voters cast around 60 per cent of the votes in 2016, is one of a number of states across the nation where the African-American vote could prove crucial for Democrats in a presidential race against Donald Trump.

The latest Post and Courier-Change Research poll fits into a national pattern for Mr Buttigieg, who is struggling to gain the interest of black voters. Of the 595 likely Democrat voters in the poll, eight per cent said they would back the South Bend mayor, enough to place him fourth. When this is broken down, 18 per cent of white voters said they would back Mr Buttgieg, but 0 per cent of black voters would. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus four per cent.

A national poll released last month by Monmouth University found that Mr Buttigieg is at two per cent support among the African-American community, staring up at the likes of California Senator Kamala Harris and former Texas Representative Beto O'Rourke, as well as former vice president Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who are leading the race.

Mr Biden is favoured by 46 per cent of would-be Democratic voters in South Carolina, while Mr Sanders sits second at 15 per cent.

Given the importance of the black vote in the 2020 primary, this is a big challenge for the South Bend mayor, according to Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist based in South Carolina.

“It is safe to assume that African-American voters will decide who the next Democratic nominee for president will be,” Mr Seawright told The Independent, adding that “[South Carolina] has a track record of deciding very early on the mood” of the national race for the nomination.

As for Mr Buttigieg, he has to overcome the fact that he does not have the name recognition others have for South Carolina voters, according to Mr Seawright.

“I think it is a combination of not knowing who he is, but also not having a relationship on working on issues that matter with African-American voters,” he said. “When you look at those that have love and affection from African-American voters, the Joe Bidens, the Kamala Harris's, even the Bernie Sanders have a traditional global track record on working on issues important to the community

Mr Buttgieg has addressed the problem in some of his early events in South Carolina, responding to a question about the black community at a rally in Orangeburg, Mr Buttgieg said: “I need help”.

“Out here people are just getting to know me,” he said of the short time span he has to make an impact. “Trust, in part, is a function of quantity time and we are racing against time.” The fact there are also more than 20 Democrat candidates for president also makes things difficult.

“To have somebody who comes on the scene who is not a candidate of colour and who has also not been a national figure for years, it means we've got to do in a matter of months, that same kind of trust building and relationship building work,” Mr Buttigieg said during the trip to South Carolina last week.

While Mr Buttigieg has seemingly struggled to connect with black voters – many of his events have involved heavily white-majority crowds – all is not lost, according to Mr Seawright.

“I think there still is a lot of time left on the game clock,” he said. “He faces a challenge ... but where I think there is a challenge there is also an opportunity to engage with, get to know and make his case to black voters.”

Mr Seawright is clear that reaching out beyond those that attend political events is crucial.

“The people who show up at rallies and events are not necessarily those who show up in strong numbers at the polls. I use my mother as any example with this. She won't go to a political event or rally, but her and her friends will show up to vote in every election.”

Candidates seem acutely aware of the value of doing well in South Carolina, with African-American candidates Ms Harris and Senator Cory Booker having held more than a dozen events in the state each. Mr O'Rourke has also held 13 events and Mr Biden visited the state earlier this month.

“I’ve never seen this amount of activity in South Carolina,” Jaime Harrison, the former South Carolina Democratic party head who is running for Senate in 2020 told The Financial Times. “If I throw a rock, I will hit at least two or three candidates.”