As one tries to predict the race in South Carolina, one which could go any of 3 ways on either side in my view, it is helpful to look at the exit polls from previous races.
Here is the exit poll from the 2004 Democratic primary.
Here is the exit poll from the 2000 Republican primary.
As I wrote the other day, I think it is premature to write John Edwards off. After looking at the exit poll from 2004, I think that that is moreso the case.
In 2004, Edwards won the primary by 45% to 30%. I had assumed that his lead was fairly consistent among both White and Black voters and that he would take a big hit as virtually 100% of the Black vote seems destined to split between Obama and Clinton. However, that's not the case. Though he won the state by 15% in 2004, he actually won among Whites by 25% and among Blacks by only 3%. Indeed, he lost among Black men (Kerry won by 4%) while doing alright among Black women (he won by 9%). The primary was 51% White and 47% Black.
If Edwards lost every single Black vote he won in 2004, but held the White vote, he would still get 23%. In the meantime, Edwards has been in South Carolina virtually full time since the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 8 and will continue to focus there until the S.C. Democratic primary on Jan. 26. Polls suggest, despite his being largely absent from the action there, that he will do well in Nevada. It is possible he could pull off a second place finish there which would give him some much needed momentum. It is far too early to make a Democratic prediction in South Carolina in this dynamic race, but it is easy to see a scenario where the votes are split three ways and any of the big three could sneak up the middle.
Now, on to the Republican race which is THIS SATURDAY, Jan. 19.
There was no measure of how many veterans participated in Iowa, but McCain, despite finishing fourth overall, placed a strong second among those who thought Iraq was the most important issue (8% behind the winner, a +13 improvement) and essentially a three-way tie for first on terrorism (4% behind the winner and 2% behind the runner-up, a +17 and +10 improvement respectively), his relative standings in general: 21% behind the winner, 12% behind second. All issue categories were carried by overall winner, Huckabee. (CNN Entrance Poll)
Like in Iowa, there was no veterans measure in NH, but McCain placed stronger in the Iraq (won by 18%, +13 improvement over his general margin) and terrorism (won by 16%, +11 improvement) issue measures again. (CNN Exit Poll)
In Michigan, McCain won among veterans by 9% despite losing the primary by 9% (a +18 improvement). Again, looking at the issues, he won Iraq by 10% and tied on terrorism: a +19 and +9 improvement respectively. (CNN Exit Poll)
As we head to South Carolina, both Huckabee and Romney suffer big deficits on the major issues that play in that state. Back in 2000, when McCain's campaign was neutered by a loss in the primary there, Bush beat McCain by 11%. However, McCain won among veterans by 1% (a +12 improvement) after suffering massive personal attacks that he is not seeing this time around. Veterans made up 27% of voters in the 2000 primary. (Exit Poll from 2000)
The most recent polls show McCain and Huckabee duking it out for first place and Romney and Thompson duking it out for third place. There has been some movement to Thompson in recent polls, at Huckabee's expense while Romney, despite his loses in Iowa and New Hampsire and his going off of the air in South Carolina, has held relatively steady.
The current poll average has McCain 26, Huckabee 23, Romney 15, Thompson 11. Romney will get some boost out of his Michigan win and return to the airwaves here. It will come largely from Huckabee; however I think Huckabee will make up that loss as I think Thompson will fade in his favour. Despite having the state all to himself since Iowa, Thompson's standing in the most recent Rasmusen tracking poll is 16%, up only four points from their poll before the Iowa caucus. On momentum, over the same period, McCain is up 16 and will now be putting in a final massive campaign push over the next four days. In 2000, the whole of the South Carolina establishment was against him, today, McCain houses the vast majority of elected Republicans in his campaign. In New Hampshire and Michigan, McCain did not enjoy nearly as much establishment support as he will in South Carolina.
I predict a fairly substantial McCain win in South Carolina, with a respectable third place for Romney. Thompson will be very embarrassed and drop out.
*this may sound high, but it assumes a 55% support from veterans and a 30% support from non-veterans based on their turnout in 2000, which I think may actually be a low ball