Republican Primary Exit Poll Analysis

PHOTO: Marco Rubio speaks in Nevada, Feb. 21, Donald Trump speaks in South Carolina, Feb. 18, 2016, Ted Cruz speaks in South Carolina, Feb. 17, and John Kasich speaks in South Carolina, Feb. 18, 2016.PlayGetty Images
WATCH Donald Trump Calls on Party to Unify Behind His Candidacy After More Primary Wins

Who turned out in Tuesday's primaries and caucuses and what motivated their votes?

Republicans voted in three primaries: Michigan, Mississippi and Idaho. Hawaii also held its Republican caucuses Tuesday.

Emerging Themes

Here's a summary of what we saw in the GOP contests across states, grouped by key themes.

Two different races took shape in the Michigan and Mississippi Republican primaries. In Mississippi, nearly all voters were evangelicals and mainline Republicans, with a high number of strong conservatives. In Michigan, by contrast, far fewer were in either of those groups, and there are notably more political independents voting.

In hypothetical two-way races, Trump leads Rubio by a wide margin and Cruz by a much closer one in Mississippi. In Michigan, Trump-Cruz and Trump-Rubio head-to-heads are close.

Economy

Record or near-record levels of economic anxiety, support for temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country and backing for deportation of Muslims lifted Donald Trump in Mississippi – along with his trademark outsider credentials.

Immigration

Half of GOP primary voters in Mississippi support deporting undocumented immigrants rather than giving them a path to legal status, higher than the average from previous primaries. In Michigan, fewer but nearly four in 10 support deportation. Deportation supporters have been another strong group for Trump in past contests. Rubio’s done much better among the somewhat larger group of voters who’d prefer a path to legal status (similar to Kasich in New Hampshire).

Anger

Not surprisingly given the level of economic discontent, four in 10 GOP voters in the state said they were not just dissatisfied but downright angry with the way the federal government is working. While that was typical for Republican primaries to date, exit poll data indicated that nearly six in 10 angry voters were backing Trump – also close to a record for him, if it holds.

Experience

At the same time, more than half said they were looking for an outsider, with Trump netting six in 10 percent of their votes. Among those who preferred experience, Kasich led with more than four in 10, followed by Cruz with a third.

Banning Muslims

Six in 10 voters supported banning non-U.S. Muslims from entering the country and Trump secured nearly half of their votes; Cruz took a quarter of them, while Kasich won four in 10 of those who opposed this step. Among the nearly four in 10 who supported deporting undocumented immigrants, Trump again won half, doing far less well among those who said they’d like a path to legal status.

Trump v. Cruz

Working against Trump is his perceived lack of honesty. Just slightly more than half in Mississippi and fewer than half in Michigan think he’s honest and trustworthy. Cruz does better than Trump in both states on this, while Rubio only does better than Trump in Michigan.

Trump’s honesty and satisfaction numbers in Michigan mark his challenges – about half of voters in the GOP primary there, in exit poll results, don’t see him as honest and trustworthy and say they’d be dissatisfied if he won the nomination:

This is less so in Mississippi, but not inconsequential – there four in 10 doubt Trump’s honesty and would be dissatisfied with him as the nominee.

Record or near-record levels of economic anxiety, support for temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country and backing for deportation of Muslims were helping Donald Trump in Mississippi – along with his trademark outsider credentials. Ted Cruz pushed back with high turnout among evangelicals and strong conservatives

Trump again lost voters who cared mainly about a candidate who “shares your values,” and by a wide margin. But more than six in 10 Mississippi voters chose on the basis of two other attributes – the candidate who “can bring needed change” or who “tells it like it is,” and they went broadly for Trump

Voter Turnout

Turnout among “very” conservative voters, half the electorate, set a record both within the state and across the 2016 primaries so far. They’ve been a better group for Cruz this year. And evangelicals also reached a record turnout – more than eight in 10 Mississippi voters, another group in which Cruz has been particularly competitive with Trump.

Late deciders titled heavily to John Kasich in Michigan, mixing up the race there. But less-educated voters and men continued to be strong support groups for Donald Trump, along with his customary support groups on attributes and issues.

Among those who selected their candidate in the last week, exit poll results indicated that more than four in 10 backed Kasich – his best result in this group to date. Those who decided earlier were far better for Trump, as usual.

Satisfaction

These two states differ somewhat in how satisfied they’d be with the top three candidates as the nominee. In Michigan, there’s not much daylight between the candidates, where about half say they’d be satisfied with Trump, Cruz and Rubio alike. In Mississippi, six in 10 would be satisfied with both Cruz and Trump, vs. just four in 10 with Rubio. To date, more GOP primary voters have found Cruz and Rubio acceptable than Trump (57 and 56 percent, vs. Trump’s 48 percent).

Mississippi

Among other groups, Trump owes much of his performance in Mississippi to men– he won them by double-digits, while running essentially evenly with Ted Cruz among women.

Evangelicals also reach a record turnout – more than eight in 10 Mississippi voters. But the exit poll results indicated that Trump edged out Cruz even in this group. Trump drew from evangelicals who were not primarily focused on a candidate who shares their values or their religious beliefs, and those who are less than very conservative.

In another sharp contrast, half of Mississippi GOP voters say they’re “very” conservative (which could turn out to be a record in the state), vs. just three in 10 in Michigan. Ted Cruz has won 42 percent of strong conservatives in this year’s primaries, vs. Trump’s 31 percent and Marco Rubio’s distant 16 percent. (Among “somewhat” conservatives, by contrast, it’s been Trump 37 percent, Rubio 25 percent and Cruz 23 percent.) Turnout among conservatives overall is at an all-time high in both states.

While Trump again lost voters who cared mainly about a candidate who “shares your values,” more than half of Mississippi voters chose on the basis of two other attributes – the candidate who “can bring needed change” or who “tells it like it is.”

Both have been Trump cards for Trump all season; he won more than half of change voters and more than eight in 10 plain-talk voters. Capping his Mississippi performance, Trump even won voters focused on electability – a group that’s previously tilted to Marco Rubio.

Michigan

Donald Trump’s now-familiar calling cards won the day for him in Michigan, with some of his best results this year among angry voters and those who favor deporting undocumented immigrants.

Six in 10 voters said they’re very worried about the direction of the economy; tapping again, as elsewhere, into this Republican discontent, Trump won nearly four in 10 of their votes in exit poll results. Three in 10 were angry with the way the federal government is working and Trump won half of their votes – he’s done better among angry voters only in Massachusetts and Alabama. And half said they were looking for an outsider, with Trump netting six in 10 of their votes.

Late deciders titled heavily to John Kasich, mixing up the race here. Among those who selected their candidate in the last week, exit poll results indicated that more than four in 10 backed Kasich – his best result in this group to date. Those who decided earlier were far better for Trump, as usual – and far more numerous.

Mainline Republicans are more numerous in Mississippi (three-quarters of voters) than in Michigan (six in 10), with more political independents in Michigan. Cruz has been weaker among independents in earlier states (they’ve voted 34-21-23 percent, Trump-Cruz-Rubio, in aggregate, compared with 35-31-22 percent among mainline Republicans to date).

Among those who preferred an experienced politician rather than an outsider, Kasich led with more than four in 10, followed by Ted Cruz with a third. But less-educated voters and men continued to be strong groups for Trump, along with his customary support groups on attributes and issues alike. Six in 10 voters supported banning non-U.S. Muslims from entering the country and Trump secured nearly half of their votes. Among the nearly four in 10 who supported deporting undocumented immigrants, Trump again won more than half.

As in Mississippi, Trump extended his support in Michigan to another group, winning voters focused on electability – previously more of a Marco Rubio group. That means that among attribute groups, he lost only voters focused on a candidate who “shares my values.” A third of the total, they went, as most often has been the case, for Cruz, followed closely by Kasich.

Even as he won Michigan, the exit poll there marked some of Trump’s continued weaknesses. Half of GOP voters in the state said he’s not honest and trustworthy. Forty-seven percent said they would not be satisfied with him as the nominee. Cruz beat him on both of these – and also beat Trump in a hypothetical one-on-one matchup, 46-37 percent - yet lost the state.

Further, far more Republican voters said Trump ran an unfair campaign – 44 percent – than said so about anyone else; Cruz was second at 22 percent. These results leave open the question of how, here as elsewhere, Trump can evolve from a plurality candidate to a majority one.