Exit polls of primaries show how Trump has reshaped Republican Party

Exit polls of primaries show how Trump has reshaped Republican Party
Exit polls of primaries show how Trump has reshaped Republican Party

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - WASHINGTON — With Super Tuesday in the rearview mirror, CNN’s entrance and exit polls of the Republican presidential contests so far highlight the extent to which the GOP electorate has been reshaped in former President Donald Trump’s image.

Across six states – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and California – most GOP primary voters said they’d consider Trump fit for the presidency even if he’s convicted of a crime. In none of those states has a majority of the GOP electorate been willing to acknowledge the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.

Exit polls are a valuable tool to help understand primary voters’ demographic profile and political views. Like all surveys, however, exit polls are estimates, not precise measurements of the electorate. That’s particularly true for the preliminary set of exit poll numbers in Super Tuesday states, which haven’t yet been weighted to match the final results of the primaries. That means that the numbers may continue to update in those states. But the results in these six states – which are the only ones where entrance or exit polls were conducted this year – provide a glimpse of the type of voters turning out. Trump has dominated in all those states, which has put him on a glide path to his third-straight GOP nomination, as his last-remaining rival, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, has struggled to accumulate delegates.

The share of Republican primary voters and caucusgoers holding these views about Trump’s fitness for office and the 2020 election varies from state to state, even as the dominant sentiment remains largely the same. In California, North Carolina, South Carolina and Iowa, 60% or more said they’d view Trump as fit for the presidency if he were convicted of a crime, a view shared by smaller majorities in New Hampshire and Virginia. The former president, who faces 91 criminal charges across four cases, has pleaded not guilty in all cases against him.

Only about 46% of New Hampshire Republican primary voters acknowledged Biden’s 2020 election win, and the numbers get smaller from there: 41% in Virginia, 36% in South Carolina, 33% in California, 32% in North Carolina and just 29% in Iowa. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Voters’ responses to those questions also lay bare the yawning divide between Trump and Haley supporters in their views of the political landscape. In each of those states, about three-quarters or more of Trump’s backers reject the results of the 2020 election, a mirror image of the three-quarters or more of Haley backers in each state who acknowledge Biden’s win. Trump’s argument – and Trump himself – have largely won out.

But there are still signs of discontent with Trump in some corners. When GOP primary voters in the three Super Tuesday states for which there’s exit polling – Virginia, North Carolina and California – were asked whether they’d vote Republican in November regardless of the nominee, 70% or more of Trump supporters in each state said they would, compared with only one-quarter or less of Haley supporters. Many of those voters are still likely to end up in the Republican camp by Election Day, but the relative levels of hesitation speak to a wing of the party that’s not yet fully ready to embrace Trump.

In each of the six states with entrance and exit polls, a sizable minority of the GOP electorate identified directly as a part of the MAGA, or “Make American Great Again,” movement, ranging from about one-third in California, Virginia and New Hampshire to nearly half in Iowa.

In each state, most voters picked either the economy and immigration as their top issue over foreign policy or abortion. And across the five states where the question was asked, majorities – ranging from 55% in New Hampshire to nearly 70% in California – echoed Trump’s hardline immigration stances, saying that most undocumented immigrants in the US should be deported rather than being offered a chance to apply for legal status. (The question about immigrants was not asked of Iowa caucusgoers.) That marks a shift from eight years ago, when majorities of GOP primary voters in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Virginia and North Carolina all favored opportunities for undocumented immigrants working in the US to obtain legal status.

Exit poll data this year finds GOP primary voters divided in their desired approach to abortion policy in a post-Roe v. Wade era. Most Iowa GOP caucusgoers, about 6 in 10, said they would favor a federal law banning most or all abortions nationwide, as did roughly half of primary voters in North Carolina and South Carolina. Majorities in California, Virginia and New Hampshire, however, said they would oppose such a ban.

Majorities of GOP caucusgoers in Iowa, and of GOP primary voters in New Hampshire, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and California, all identify as conservatives, though the share who call themselves “very conservative” ranges from about one-quarter in California and New Hampshire to roughly half in Iowa. In each of the states, Trump posted his strongest support among those voters who called themselves very conservative – another shift from 2016, when ideological patterns of support for Trump were often less well-defined.

Trump has also racked up support among those primary voters who are the most acutely unhappy with the way things are going in the US. In each of the five states where this question was asked, the former president won 80% or more of voters who describe themselves as angry, while winning by a smaller margin or trailing among those who pronounced themselves merely dissatisfied.

That echoes a divide between Trump and Haley supporters in explaining the main appeal of their chosen candidate. Voters in each state were asked whether it was most important that a candidate shared their values, had the right temperament, fought for people like them, or could defeat Biden. In most of the six states, the largest share of Trump’s voters said they were looking for a fighter; in North Carolina and California, they were more closely split between a fighter and someone who shared their values. Haley voters in each state, by contrast, were more likely to cite her temperament or values.

Exit polls for the Iowa Republican caucuses and the New Hampshire, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and California Republican presidential primaries were conducted by Edison Research on behalf of the National Election Pool.

The entrance poll for Iowa’s Republican presidential caucuses includes 1,628 interviews with caucus participants across 45 different caucus locations, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points for the full sample. The New Hampshire Republican primary poll includes 2,192 interviews with voters across 40 different polling places on Election Day, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points for the full sample. The South Carolina Republican primary poll includes 2,126 interviews with voters across 40 different polling places on Election Day, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points for the full sample.

The North Carolina Republican primary poll includes 2,157 interviews with voters across 19 early in-person voting sites and 30 different polling places on Election Day, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points for the full sample. The Virginia Republican primary poll includes 1,712 interviews with voters across 30 different polling places on Election Day, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points for the full sample. The California Republican primary poll includes 585 interviews conducted prior to Election Day on February 25-March 3, using telephone, email and text messaging to reach respondents selected from the voter file, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points for the full sample. — CNN


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