Biden, Sanders tied for first place in South Carolina: poll

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSteyer endorses Biden for president Sanders 2020 press secretary: Democratic leadership interested in 'corporate status quo' or 'they're planning to replace Joe' Biden joins calls to release racial breakdowns of coronavirus cases, deaths MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSteyer endorses Biden for president Sanders says he wouldn't 'drop dead' if Trump decided on universal healthcare Sanders 2020 press secretary: Democratic leadership interested in 'corporate status quo' or 'they're planning to replace Joe' MORE (I-Vt.) are running neck and neck in South Carolina, with billionaire activist Tom SteyerTom SteyerSteyer endorses Biden for president Progressive advocates propose T 'green stimulus' plan Candidates want data privacy rules, except for their own campaigns MORE not far behind, according to a new poll released exclusively to The Hill. 

The poll, conducted by Change Research for the Democratic group The Welcome Party, shows Biden and Sanders knotted at 23 percent support each in the Palmetto State. Meanwhile, Steyer is running in second place at 20 percent. 

Only one other candidate, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden faces tough task of uniting Democrats Sanders campaign adviser on what went right and what went wrong Former Clinton staffers invited to celebrate Sanders dropping out: report MORE, registered in double digits in the poll, with 15 percent support. 

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The poll, which was fielded from Feb. 12-14 in the wake of the New Hampshire Democratic primary, suggests that Biden, the longtime front-runner in South Carolina, is losing ground in a state that he’s counting on to power his presidential bid into Super Tuesday and beyond.

It also suggests that both Sanders and Buttigieg have benefited from a burst of momentum following their respective victories in New Hampshire and Iowa. Sanders has gained 3 points in South Carolina since a Change Research poll in late January, while Buttigieg has gained 8 points.

Steyer, who notched bottom-tier finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, also has momentum in South Carolina. He has spent heavily in the state on advertising and recruiting local activists to his campaign, a strategy that appears to be paying off in the polls. A handful of recent surveys have shown Steyer near the top of the pack in the Palmetto State.

Overall, South Carolina Democrats haven’t been contacted by the campaigns at nearly the rate that voters in New Hampshire were in the lead-up to their state’s primary. On that front, Steyer leads the pack, with nearly 6 in 10 South Carolina Democrats saying they’ve heard from the billionaire activist’s campaign.

Sanders, meanwhile, placed second in that regard, with just over 4 in 10 Democratic voters in South Carolina saying they’ve been contacted by the Vermont senator’s campaign.

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By comparison, a previous Change Research poll conducted for The Welcome Party found that nearly 7 in 10 Democrats or Democratic-leaning voters in New Hampshire reported being contacted by the campaigns of Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSteyer endorses Biden for president Biden joins calls to release racial breakdowns of coronavirus cases, deaths The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden faces tough task of uniting Democrats MORE (D-Mass.) in the lead-up to the state’s primary. 

The most recent poll also suggests that the candidates have so far overlooked independent voters in South Carolina, who are allowed to vote in the state’s Democratic nominating contest because it is an open primary. 

Only the Sanders and Steyer campaigns have reached even a quarter of South Carolina voters who say they don’t lean towards either party, according to the survey. 

Lauren Harper, the South Carolina co-chairwoman of The Welcome Party, which is seeking to court independent voters ahead of the primary, said that many of those unaligned voters are still in play for Democrats and will prove crucial in the party’s efforts to not only win the White House in November, but recapture a majority in the Senate.

“We can’t expect independent voters to turn out for an election or even a candidate if we don’t seek their vote,” Harper said. “The Democratic Party truly can’t afford to ignore these swing voters who hold the keys to Democratic success up and down the ballot. Shifting to being the party that welcomes in a majority and governs for progress requires talking with swing voters – not just about them.”

The poll surveyed 1,015 South Carolina likely voters online from Feb. 12-14. The survey does not report a margin of error.