1 in 5 Republican primary voters still aren’t voting for Trump

The Republican presidential nominating contest effectively came to an end nearly a month ago. But the protest votes against Donald Trump are proving stubborn.

Nearly 1 in 5 GOP primary voters across four contests Tuesday voted for an option other than the presumptive nominee. That’s about the same proportion that voted against him on the last big primary day, March 19.

While President Biden continues to cede votes as well — largely protests over his Gaza war policy, reflected in choices like “uncommitted” — Trump is ceding more.

Since Nikki Haley dropped out of the campaign after Super Tuesday on March 5, an average of 17 percent of those voting in GOP contests have voted against Trump, compared to 11 percent against Biden.

If you exclude low-turnout caucuses and deep-red Southern states, Trump is ceding an average of 20 percent since Super Tuesday.

Many Republicans still aren’t voting for Trump


Total

number

of votes

per state

Ron DeSantis drops out of the presidential race just before the New Hampshire primary but the

non-Trump vote remains high

States with closed primaries

Nikki Haley wins D.C., with 67% of

Republicans voting against Trump

Haley drops out after Super Tuesday leaving

Trump with no serious opposition, but around

20% of Republicans aren’t voting for him

Total

number

of votes

per state

Ron DeSantis drops out of the presidential race just before the

New Hampshire primary but the non-Trump vote remains high

States with closed primaries

Nikki Haley wins D.C., with 67% of

Republicans voting against Trump

Haley drops out after Super Tuesday leaving Trump with no serious opposition, but around 20% of Republicans aren’t voting for him

The question from there is how much it matters in November — whether these are voters who a) will also balk at voting for Trump in the general election, and b) might have otherwise voted Republican.

The evidence is inconclusive. But we do have clues.

The first is that many of these roughly 1 in 5 voters are indeed threatening not to vote for Trump.

In North Carolina on Super Tuesday, Haley got 23 percent of the vote. An exit poll showed the vast majority of her voters — nearly 1 in 5 primary voters overall — declined to commit to backing the eventual GOP nominee (who at that point, it was pretty clear, would be Trump).

In Ohio on March 19, 84 percent of Republican primary voters said they would at least probably vote for Trump, while not quite 1 in 10 said they would at least probably vote for Biden.

Even losing 1 in 10 voters who might otherwise vote Republican could prove damaging to Trump in a close general election.

But there is some evidence that many of these protest votes come from voters who probably leaned Democratic or voted for Biden in 2020. Political independents can vote in either primary in most states, and Haley has vastly over-performed among them.

While Trump has claimed these are Democrats voting against him, exit polls in the few states where we have them generally show 6 percent or less identify personally as Democrats. But that still leaves independents who might lean that way.

In Georgia, roughly 3 percent of primary voters voted in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, and about 10 percent had voted in at least one Democratic primary since 2016.

Haley has also consistently done significantly better among early and absentee voters. Given that they tend to be more left-leaning, that could be instructive.

Many Republicans are still voting for Haley

We don’t have in-depth exit polling and voter data for many states that have voted so far, but these numbers suggest many of these voters would have been difficult for Trump to get regardless.

The plot has thickened in recent primaries, though. As the primary calendar has advanced, we’ve seen more states featuring “closed” primaries — ones in which only registered Republicans can vote.

Since Super Tuesday, closed primaries in Florida, Kansas, Connecticut and New York have yielded an average of 21 percent of voters voting against Trump — again, all of them registered Republicans. So despite independents not being allowed to participate, the protest vote has remained consistent.

Of course, even if these are gettable Trump voters casting protest votes and even threatening to vote against him in November, we don’t know whether they would follow through on that threat. The GOP primary electorate isn’t generally reflective of the broader electorate or even Republican voters who will turn out in November; it tends to be older, more White, more informed and more partisan.

There is also some precedent for large numbers of protest votes even after a primary contest is basically over.

John McCain dropped out of the 2000 Republican primaries against George W. Bush after Super Tuesday. McCain averaged nearly 15 percent of the vote in the remaining contests.

Similarly, Bernie Sanders averaged more than 16 percent of the vote even after dropping out of the 2020 Democratic nominating contest against Biden.

Regardless, Bush and Biden went on to win the presidency.

Kati Perry and Adrián Blanco contributed to this report.


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