Trump, Biden show signs of weakness with independents in 3 big states: Preliminary exit polls

Preliminary Super Tuesday exit poll results show weaknesses for Joe Biden and Donald Trump alike among independent voters while also raising questions about the extent to which supporters of Nikki Haley would turn out for Trump in November if he beats her for the Republican presidential nomination.

In sum, the findings in California, North Carolina and Virginia — the three states with exit polls on Tuesday — mark challenges facing both President Biden and former President Trump in an expected November face-off.

Notably, 78% of Haley voters in the North Carolina Republican presidential primary, 69% in California and 68% in Virginia are unwilling to say they’ll support the party’s nominee whoever it is, mirroring Haley’s recent hedge on the issue. Just 21, 26 and 27%, respectively, take the pledge.

Moreover, as in previous primaries, large majorities of Haley voters say Trump would be unfit for office if convicted of a crime, say they’d be dissatisfied with him as the nominee and reject his claim that Biden didn’t legitimately win in 2020, a tenet of Trump’s campaign. (Trump faces 91 charges and denies all wrongdoing.)

In other signs of distance from Trump supporters, most Haley voters oppose a federal abortion ban and support a chance for most unauthorized immigrants to apply for legal status. In questions asked only in California, Haley voters overwhelmingly are dissatisfied with the 2022 Supreme Court ruling eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion and 54% disapprove of Trump’s performance as president.

In a potential boost to Biden, 48% of Haley voters in North Carolina and Virginia alike approve of his work as president; this drops to 30% in California. Combined across the three states, 40% of Haley voters approve of Biden’s job performance, 58% disapprove.

The question, then, is both whether some Haley voters may shift to Biden in November as well as how many will turn out for Trump if, as expected, he wins his party’s nomination.

Overall, Democrats account for just 4% of GOP primary voters in these three primaries. They concentrate as Haley voters and Biden approvers: Among Haley voters who approve of Biden, 28% are Democrats, 47% are independents and 26% are Republicans. (Among Haley voters who disapprove of Biden, by contrast, just 2% are Democrats, 34% independents, 64% Republicans.)

Additionally, among Haley voters who approve of Biden, 84% are moderates or liberals and 16% are conservatives. Among those who disapprove of Biden, 39% are moderates or liberals and 61% are conservative.

Haley voters who approve of Biden are more optimistic about the country and the economy alike. They have a 53-44% positive-negative view of the way things are going in the country and a 72-28% positive-negative view of the nation’s economy. Among Haley voters who disapprove of Biden, it’s 14-86% positive-negative on the way things are going and 26-73% positive-negative on the economy.

Virginia’s exit polling

The polls have closed in Virginia and an analysis of the exit polls show that Biden won the Democratic primary and Trump won the Virginia Republican presidential primary.

Fewer evangelical white Christians turned out than in other southern states for which ABC News has exit poll data (37% in Virginia; 52% in North Carolina and 61% last week in South Carolina), but three-quarters of them backed Trump, holding their position as one of his strongest support groups this year.

Nearly two-thirds were conservatives, and Trump again cruised in this group. Haley came back with independents (57% support) and the 11% of Virginia GOP primary voters who identified themselves as Democrats (90% for Haley). She also won college graduates, with 56%. But Trump easily won non-graduates, along with his hold on core Republicans, taking the lead in Virginia.

North Carolina’s exit polls

Trump is the projected winner in the North Carolina primary, which was well suited for him — with 77% of voters identifying themselves as conservatives, half of them “very” conservative and 52 percent as white evangelical Christians.

More than half, 56% in preliminary exit poll results, don’t have a college degree — with each of these a strong group for Trump. He also benefited from broad anti-immigrant sentiment, with 41% calling it their top issue (compared to 33% who cited the economy) and 62% favoring deportation of most undocumented immigrants. Sixty-three percent said Trump would be fit for office even if convicted of a crime — but even there, a third of Republican primary voters, 32%, said he would not.

California Senate primary

Another window on the November election is available via California’s open primary for the U.S. Senate, a so-called jungle primary in which both Democrats and Republicans run and the two top finishers on Tuesday, regardless of party, advance to the November general election.

Helpfully for Biden, among California Democrats who voted in the Senate primary, 83% in the preliminary poll results approve of how he is handling his job as president. But among independents — often swing voters in national elections — just 35% approve of Biden’s job performance while 65% disapprove. (Among Republicans, disapproval of Biden reaches a near-unanimous 92.)

Trump matches Biden in his base — 83 percent of Republicans in the Senate open primary approve of how Trump handled the job when he was president.

Among independents, however, fewer approve, 43%, while 56% disapprove. (Among Democrats, 97 percent disapprove.)

In the open primary for the seat left vacant by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrats account for 43% of voters in these preliminary results; 37% are independents and 20% are Republicans.

The race pits three prominent Democratic lawmakers — Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff — against a Republican, Steve Garvey, with a question whether the Democrats split the vote in a way that opens the door to Garvey in a runoff between the top two finishers.

On another front, 60% of independents voting in the California Senate primary say they would not see Trump as fit to be president if he were convicted of a crime. And in Trump’s own party, 28% of Republicans say the same.

Beyond his approval rating, challenges for Biden are reflected in economic attitudes among California Senate primary voters. Fifty-five percent overall say the economy is in not so good or poor shape — including 66% of independents. And just 14% overall, including 11% of independents, say their family is getting ahead financially.

Neither result bodes particularly well for an incumbent president.

A risk for Trump, beyond his criminal exposure, is that 71% of Californians in the Senate open primary say they are dissatisfied or angry about the U.S. Supreme Court decision eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion — including 62% of independents and even 34% of Republicans.

Further, fewer than half of independents, 41%, think most immigrants who are in the country illegally should be deported and most independents, 66%, reject Trump’s false claim that Biden didn’t legitimately win the 2020 election.

A focus on independents is justified given their swing voter status. Trump won independents in six swing states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Biden then won independents in all six of those states in 2020, moving all but North Carolina back into the Democratic column.

Nationally, presidential winners have prevailed among independents in all but three elections since 1976 (in 2012, 2004 and 1976, per exit polls).

Notable among other results

In the Republican presidential primaries, white evangelical Christians, a strong group for Trump this year, account for 52% of voters in North Carolina, dropping to 36% in Virginia and 22% in California. Very conservative voters, also especially strong for Trump, make up 39% in North Carolina, 28% in Virginia and 26% in California.

Comparisons to 2016 show that very conservative and white evangelical voters are the groups in which Trump consistently has gained the most ground.

In New Hampshire this year, he was up 20 points overall vs. 2016, but 53 points among very conservatives and 42 points among white evangelicals. In South Carolina, up 28 points overall but 55 points among very conservative and 37 points among white evangelicals. (2016 numbers aren’t available for California.)

Exit polls have been conducted in Republican contests in six states to date: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and now California, North Carolina and Virginia.

Aggregate results (proportional to turnout) show the extent to which pro-Trump groups have turned out and also mark demographic differences with general election voters, with far more conservatives, white people and white evangelicals in the GOP electorate.

Attitudinally, in aggregate, majorities of voters in these 2024 Republican primaries buy into Trump’s falsehood that Biden was not legitimately elected, favor deporting most unauthorized immigrants and say he would be fit for office even if convicted of a crime.

Fewer but still 41% favor a federal ban on abortion. And a broad 81% rate the economy negatively while 85% are dissatisfied or even angry at the way things are going in the country.

Many fewer, though, identify themselves as part of Trump’s MAGA movement.

These aggregate results conceal some differences among states — 61% in Iowa favored a federal ban on abortion, for example, while 67% in New Hampshire opposed this. And aggregate views in these six states may not reflect those among Republican voters elsewhere.

Overall, Democrats account for just 4% of GOP primary voters in these three primaries. They concentrate as Haley voters and Biden approvers: Among Haley voters who approve of Biden, 28% are Democrats, 47% are independents and 26% are Republicans. (Among Haley voters who disapprove of Biden, by contrast, just 2% are Democrats, 34% independents, 64% Republicans.)

Additionally, among Haley voters who approve of Biden, 84% are moderates or liberals, 16% conservatives. Among those who disapprove of Biden, 39% are moderates or liberals while 61% are conservatives.

Haley voters who approve of Biden are more optimistic about the country and the economy alike. They have a 53-44% (positive-negative) view of the way things are going in the country and a 72-28% (positive-negative) view of the nation’s economy.

Among Haley voters who disapprove of Biden, it’s 14-86% (positive-negative) on the way things are going and 26-73% (positive-negative) on the economy.

Across all six states for which there are GOP exit polls in the nominating races this year, 17% of Haley voters say Trump would be fit if convicted of a crime, 79% say not fit.

Naturally, the general election electorate next fall will be different than the makeup of Super Tuesday voters, both in California (which hasn’t voted for a Republican candidate for president since 1988) and elsewhere.

The new exit poll results nonetheless may be generally indicative of the difficulties awaiting both leading candidates.

Note that these are preliminary exit poll results. Findings may shift as results are weighted to actual vote totals, which won’t happen in California until approximately 1:30 a.m. EST. (Additionally, the California survey, while referred to here as an exit poll, was conducted by phone and email in advance of Election Day, given the preponderance of early voting in the state.)


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