Celebrating President Joe Biden’s win in the South Carolina Democratic primary at the State Fairgrounds on Feb. 3 (Photo by Jada Kirkland/Carolina News and Reporter)

It’s unclear whether Joe Biden has strong support from younger Black South Carolinians for this year’s general election, and it could depend heavily on what organizers do between now and November.

Overall, 68% of voters in the state’s Feb. 3 Democratic presidential primary were Black. But only 4% of registered voters went to the polls. Prior to the primary, polling by the New York Times showed Biden lagging with Black voters in swing states, to the concern of Democratic organizers.

Biden had pushed for the South Carolina Democratic primary to be the first in the nation in large part because the state’s Black voters helped turn his primary campaign around in 2020. 

“Polls don’t vote, voters vote, and they voted on Saturday, February 3rd,” state Democratic Party Chair Christale Spain said.

Though Biden lacked a serious opponent, Black voters still turned out, and “the indication to me is that they’re supporting Biden,” she said.

In the comparable 2020 primary, 56% of voters were Black, according to CNN exit polling. It‘s hard to say whether February’s uptick will be reflected in the general election, local organizers say. But they are working hard to make it happen. 

“When the sample size is smaller, any variable can have a larger impact and show a greater change, right?” said Brandon Upson, executive director of the South Carolina Progressive Network. “When we go from having half a million people voting to having 130,000 people vote, the ratio is easily skewed by the turnout.” 

Upson said typical primary voters in South Carolina are often older and often vote in every election. He is worried that younger Black voters are not necessarily showing up for Biden, even as older Black voters continue to show up. 

Joe Biden took South Carolina with 96% of the vote. But voter participation was down significantly from past years: 131,033 people voted in the primary, compared to 540,000 in 2020 and 373,063 in 2016. 

Voter-registration and Democratic-leaning organizations are pushing to get more voters registered and making sure they have a ride to the polls. And they are reaching out to young people where they live – on social media platforms. 

They’re banking on having former President Donald Trump as an opponent in November to bring more people to the polls.

All of that should make November’s turnout better than February’s, advocates said. 

“If somebody had been a better (primary) challenger, the numbers would have been, you know, could have been totally different. We had a race, but no race,” said Lawrence Moore, chairman of Carolina for All and a longtime progressive organizer in South Carolina.

But young voters of color just aren’t excited about Biden, said Courtney McClain, the president of the youth and college division of the South Carolina NAACP.

His age, his slowness to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and his failure to follow through on issues affecting young people are giving voters pause, she said. 

For Democrats, Biden will always have the advantage of being the lesser of two evils when running against Trump. But McClain said young people want to vote for a candidate they actually like. 

“We do know the importance of voting,” McClain said. “It is not that we don’t think that it is important, but it’s because of the issues that he has not delivered on or how he’s handled specific issues, especially regarding the Israel and Palestine conflict going on.”

The age of both candidates also matters to those voters. Biden is 81. Trump is 77. 

Aiden Mitchell, a 20-year-old College of Charleston student, said neither Biden nor Trump are likely to be alive to feel the long-term impact of the policy choices they make. Still, Biden seems like the lesser of two evils. 

“They’re making decisions for a future that they won’t really see,” Mitchell said. “From a realistic standpoint, Joe Biden and Donald Trump probably won’t see 10 or 15 more years, if, you know, their health stays the same. They’re on the wrong side of 70 at this point.”

Some young voters are still Biden fans, despite the lack of enthusiasm from many of their peers. Sam Grant, who leads the College Democrats at Charleston Southern University as well as the state chapter, said after seeing Biden’s energy at his campaign stops, he doesn’t think Biden’s too old to be a good candidate. 

“Joe Biden would definitely be the top contender for me, even if there were some other candidates in this race that are a little more viable than the two that we have now,” Grant said. “I think this has been one of the most productive administrations that we’ve ever seen.” 

Upson said he has spoken to a lot of Democrats who chose instead to vote in South Carolina’s Republican primary, where they felt their votes had more sway, or had planned to sit out the primary altogether. 

Amia Hampton, previously a “Vote blue no matter who” voter, is considering voting for Trump, saying he is more upfront with his intentions. She said she planned to sit out the Democratic primary and choose between Trump and Cornel West, a third-party independent candidate. 

“I talk to a lot of young, Black, Democratic voters, and they are dismayed,” Hampton said. “They are just very disgusted at how the Democratic Party tries to pander to them. You know, we are smart individuals, and we’re always getting the afterthought, even though we are the most loyal base.” 

Gibbs Knotts is the dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at the College of Charleston and a political science professor who studies voting behavior and political participation. He said that while the percentage of Black voters rose during the February primary, the raw number of Black voters fell steeply along with the number of voters overall. 

“I’m not seeing a lot of evidence that there’s a big movement of young people to the Republican Party,” Knotts said. “I think what Joe Biden should be concerned about is, ‘Are they not going to be motivated or excited enough about Joe Biden to turn out?’ And I think to me that would be a big worry, not only for really young people, but all racial groups.”

A “vote” sign at Columbia’s Greenview neighborhood polling place (By Kat Smith/ Carolina News and Reporter)

President Joe Biden speaking at the State Fairgrounds in Columbia (Photo by Jenna Rounds/Carolina News and Reporter)

South Carolina Democratic Party headquarters in Columbia (Photo by Dylan Jackson/Carolina News and Reporter)