Fresh off a resounding 28-point romp in South Carolina, former Vice President Joe Biden is aiming to cement his status as a top-tier contender by performing well across the south in this week’s Super Tuesday primaries. Over 1,300 of the nearly 4,000 total delegates will be awarded across the 14 states holding primaries on Super Tuesday, and North Carolina looks to be one of the most important with 110 pledged delegates in play. Polls show a close race between Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders, with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg running a strong third; Biden remains favored among black voters, but white voters have polled far closer.
First, let’s look back to 2016. Former Senator Hillary Clinton beat Sanders decisively, securing 54.5% of the vote to 40.9% for Sanders. There was a clear east/west divide, but true support for Sanders was concentrated in only a few areas: the college county of Watauga and liberal mecca of Buncombe, the surrounding areas in the mountains (which may or may not have been a protest vote), and liberal Orange County (home of UNC Chapel Hill). He performed best in the west in general, although most of these counties have barely any Democrats to speak of and some of this was certainly protest votes.
On the Clinton side, she performed especially strong in the east, with a massive African American-driven firewall stretching from Vance to Pasquotank and Cumberland. Additionally, she demolished Bernie in Mecklenburg, home of Charlotte; this diverse county is not as ideologically liberal as it might let on in voting patterns and has a strong emphasis on businesses like banking and financial services. Most urban counties, in fact, went for Clinton fairly handily.
Looking forward, this is my prediction for how the state’s counties will vote based on recent polling. I expect Biden to maintain most of Clinton’s support in the east, but I think several of the majority-white coastal counties Clinton barely won in 2016 will flip to Sanders, if only because of the presence of Bloomberg on the ballot. I also anticipate Sanders will perform better in the Research Triangle. Wake in particular has become ideologically quite liberal in recent years, most recently rejecting all six constitutional amendments proposed in 2018, even one to cap income tax rates. Durham is also a major county to watch; it’s majority-white and the city has a white mayor, but Sanders did not win it in 2016.
While nobody expects Bloomberg to win, it’s not impossible that he wins a county or two; if he were to do so, keep an eye on Mecklenburg. This county resoundingly rejected Bernie in 2016 and has a ton of moderate, pro-business white Democrats that Bloomberg might appeal to. However, with Bloomberg support seemingly split across demographic groups, it’s quite possible he walks away with no counties even with an impressive statewide performance.