Biden and Sanders at Democratic presidential debate
Biden and Sanders at Democratic presidential debate Reuters

Former US Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are locked in a tight contest in South Carolina, according to a new NBC News/Marist poll ahead of the state's Democratic primary Saturday.

Biden gets the support of 27 percent of likely Democratic primary voters in South Carolina, while Sanders gets 23 percent.

They are followed by billionaire activist Tom Steyer at 15 percent, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 9 percent, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) at 8 percent and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) at 5 percent.

No other candidate gets more than 3 percent in the poll.

The survey was conducted Feb. 18 to Feb. 21 — before the results were known from Saturday's Nevada caucuses, which Sanders easily won, beating Biden by more than 2 to 1.

Steyer's double-digit showing comes as he's spent about $20 million on TV and radio ads in the state, according to ad spending data from Advertising Analytics, which is nearly 10 times more than the second-biggest advertiser, Buttigieg.

In the new NBC News/Marist poll, Biden performs best among likely voters who are moderates (getting support from 38 percent of them), African American (35 percent) and 45 or older (34 percent).

Sanders does best among those younger than 45 (40 percent) and self-described progressives (34 percent).

While Sanders trails Biden among African American likely voters, the margin is closer than it was four years ago — Biden gets 35 percent, Sanders gets 20 percent and Steyer is at 19 percent.

In 2016, by comparison, Hillary Clinton had the support of 86 percent of African American voters, compared to 14 percent who supported Sanders, according to the exit poll.

Clinton won the state by nearly 50 points in the primary four years ago.

Sanders’ win Nevada came after he narrowly defeated Buttigieg in New Hampshire. Sanders and Buttigieg split the delegates haul from the Iowa caucuses earlier this month.

The Vermont Senator is seen as the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination following the Nevada victory.