MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
For more on how the race is shaping up in South Carolina, we called Bruce Ransom. He's a professor of political science at Clemson University. Clemson released a poll yesterday and Ransom says it shows a tightening race with a large swing vote.
P: Barack Obama is ahead with 27 percent, followed by Senator Clinton at 20 percent, and John Edwards at 17 percent, with 36 percent undecided. And clearly, this is some tightening of the race because many other polls had Obama ahead but around 10 percent or so, and we see a slight narrowing, if you will, here.
NORRIS: If there is some movement there, where is the shift happening? John Edwards seems to be making a move there?
P: Well, you know, what we have here is that John Edwards, who's at 12 percent in our poll in November, is in January, now, at 17 percent, which is an increase of 5 percent. And - but Barack Obama, who's at 17 percent in November, is now at 27 percent, which is a 10-point increase. And Hillary Clinton, who was at 19 percent in November, is now at 20, which is a 1 percent increase.
We also in our poll have a still a sizeable number of undecideds - or those who refused to give an answer, which was 49 percent in November, and now 36 percent. In January, a decline of 13 points.
NORRIS: This is the first of the early contests where the candidates are trying to court a large African-American electorate.
NORRIS: And there's an interesting racial dynamic here. Barack Obama does not appear to have put together the multi-ethnic coalition that we saw in these other early states, in Iowa or New Hampshire. In terms of white support, he ranks third behind Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.
P: In South Carolina, yes, he does. This is not new. In terms of our previous polling, he was also in that third slot. And we continue to see that the white vote, if you will, is being split between Senator Clinton and John Edwards. And perhaps even in the Democratic primary, looking at likely Democratic voters in South Carolina, race relations and environment in terms of racial matters is somewhat different in South Carolina given its history and legacy than it is in Iowa and New Hampshire. And perhaps, there are some residual effects that we see unfolding in the ratio polling numbers for South Carolina.
NORRIS: If Barack Obama does not pull a significant percentage of support from White voters there in South Carolina, what might that mean for him going forward as he tries to compete in other Southern states?
P: Well, you know, one of the things that could come out of South Carolina that would not serve his campaign well is that if the results show that he's unable to really pull together a biracial voting coalition, then what we've been, been hearing in some quarters already about whether or not, for example, he might win in South Carolina, but do so largely with black voters. And what undercut his campaign's ability to suggest that there is this biracial coalition, he may find himself at a disadvantage.
NORRIS: Unity is an important message in his campaign.
P: Yes, yes.
NORRIS: There has been a lot of rancor among the candidates, particularly between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the last 10 days. Charges back and forth, charges from one campaign that there's some push polling being done, calls to homes with negative things being said about one candidate over the other.
P: That is definitely unfolding and taking place.
NORRIS: How does all of this affect the voters and the dynamic of the campaign down there in South Carolina?
P: Well, I think it's somewhat difficult to get a handle on that because that is happening - the push polling, other messages that raise negative evaluations of each of the candidates. I think as the campaign, which already has entered its closing hours, that if the campaigns can put forth a positive foot in terms of their positive message, that I think it would serve them well. And I'm not certain that what we see in terms of the controversy and the dustup and the fierce exchange that we saw in the debate on Monday night, you know, might deter individuals who are inclined to vote for the candidates to change their minds. And I don't think we can point to any one factor as, you know, the determining one.
NORRIS: What's the mood down there in South Carolina? If you go to a diner or a car dealership or almost anywhere, what kind of conversations are you likely to hear?
P: Well, you, you're hearing individuals who are partisans on both sides, really still talking very favorably about the candidates that they support. Some, on the other hand, are expressing some displeasure with the back and forth, and what they saw on Monday evening or what they heard about or maybe they didn't see the debate, but saw some clips. And it has had some effect but I'm not certain just how deep that effect might be. It seems to me that we're going to get a good turnout. And there are some that will be turned off, but I'm not certain that it will make a serious dent in what's going to take place tomorrow.
NORRIS: Professor Ransom, thanks so much for talking to us.
P: Well, thank you for having me.
NORRIS: Bruce Ransom is a professor of political science at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina.
BLOCK: You'll find more about the issues at stake in Saturday's democratic primary in South Carolina at npr.org/elections.
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