Live South Carolina GOP Primary Exit Poll Analysis

PHOTO: (L-R) Republican presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz in Greenville, S.C., Feb. 12, 2016, Donald Trump in Pendleton, S.C., Feb. 10, 2016 and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in Portsmouth, N.H., Feb. 8, 2016.PlayAP Photo
WATCH South Carolina and Nevada Vote 2016: Everything You Need to Know

Record turnout by conservatives and evangelicals is helping to shape the South Carolina Republican primary, along with vast support for Donald Trump’s stance on limiting the ability of Muslims to enter the country and substantial backing for deportation of undocumented immigrants.

Exit poll results indicate that three-quarters of the state’s primary voters support temporarily banning Muslims who are not U.S. citizens from entering the United States. That’s even more than the support for this proposal among GOP voters in New Hampshire, 65 percent – a core support group for Trump in that state.

Many fewer – but still more than four in 10 – favor deporting undocumented immigrants, another very strong group for Trump in New Hampshire. And, in another helpful result for Trump, four in 10 pick him among five top candidates as best able to handle the economy – twice as many as pick his nearest competitor on this issue, Ted Cruz.

Other results are potentially helpful to other candidates. Eight in 10 GOP voters in South Carolina identify themselves as conservative, and four in 10 as very conservative – both on pace to set records in exit poll data in the state back to 1992. (In 2012, for example, 68 percent were conservatives.)

Further in these results, nearly three-quarters of GOP voters identify themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians – again a record if it holds in final data, up from 65 percent in 2012. It was evangelicals who lifted Cruz to victory in Iowa; they made up 64 percent of voters there, vs. just 25 percent in New Hampshire, where Trump won.

Additionally, nearly half say it matters “a great deal” to them that a candidate shares their religious beliefs – up very sharply from 26 percent in 2012. And the top candidate attribute voters are seeking is someone who “shares my values” – a weaker group for Trump in earlier contests, and a consistently better one for Cruz. It was the most-desired quality in New Hampshire and Iowa, as well.

In one newly hotly debated issue, the exit poll asked voters which of five candidates they’d trust most to handle nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court. In results, they chiefly divide between Cruz, Trump and Marco Rubio on this question.

A key theme of the 2016 GOP primaries – discontent with the status quo – continues in South Carolina.

Nearly half of voters in exit poll results say they want the next president to be from “outside the political establishment.” Similar numbers said so in the last two contests; Trump won 46 percent outsider voters in Iowa, vaulting to 62 percent among this group in New Hampshire.

Nearly all say they are dissatisfied or even angry about the way the federal government is working – including four in 10 who are downright angry about it. Angry voters were a widely pro-Trump group in New Hampshire, and divided between Trump and Cruz in Iowa.

More than half say they feel “betrayed” by the Republican Party. It was nearly as high, 47 percent, in New Hampshire.

Finding a candidate who “can bring needed change” is the No. 2 attribute in South Carolina, behind “shares my values.” “Change” voters were a strong group for Trump in Iowa and New Hampshire alike.

There’s a difference in South Carolina on issue priorities, compared with Iowa and New Hampshire. Terrorism is the No. 1 concern, cited by a third of voters, while just fewer than three in 10 pick either the economy and jobs or government spending as their top issue. Terrorism ranked lower on the list – third – in Iowa and New Hampshire alike.

In another clear sign of voter discontent in the Republican Party, three-quarters in exit poll results say they’re not just worried about the economy, but very worried about it. It was similar in New Hampshire.

However the vote comes out, Trump appears to have lost to Cruz in the debate over who’s run the most unfair campaign: Four in 10 say it was Trump, while a third point to Cruz, with three others (Rubio, Jeb Bush and John Kasich) in single digits.

That said, there’s a Trump-or-bust aspect to his support: More than four in 10 Trump voters say they’d only be satisfied if he’s the nominee. For comparison, just a quarter of Cruz’s supporters say they want only him, and just two in 10 Rubio voters say they’ll be satisfied only with their man.

While Trump leads in trust to handle the economy, there’s a split on international relations, with about equal preference for Cruz, Trump and Rubio.

There are a substantial number of late deciders – about four in 10 say they made up their minds only today or in the last few days. But that’s down from 47 percent in New Hampshire. Early deciders, in previous states, have been good for Trump.

Demand for an outsider and vast support for Donald Trump’s call to bar Muslims from entering the country helped shape the South Carolina Republican primary. Trump was pulled back, all the same, by values voters and strong conservatives – setting the stage for epic battles ahead.

The ABC News exit poll found record turnout by conservatives and evangelicals in the state. Strikingly, nearly three-quarters of voters supported temporarily banning Muslims who are not U.S. citizens from entering the United States – exceeding the 65 percent who said so in New Hampshire. They were a key support group for Trump in both states.

Fewer GOP voters in South Carolina – but still more than four in 10 – favored deporting undocumented immigrants, again a very strong group for Trump. And 43 percent picked him among five top contenders as best able to handle the economy, twice as many as picked his nearest competitor on this question, Ted Cruz.

That said, Trump faced continued challenges. The top attribute voters were seeking was someone who “shares my values” – a weaker group for Trump in earlier contests, and notably so here: A mere 7 percent of values voters picked him in South Carolina – dead last among the six candidates running, and compared with 38 percent for Cruz and 26 percent for Marco Rubio.

Eighty-two percent of GOP voters in South Carolina identified themselves as conservative, up from 68 percent in 2012 to a record in exit polls in the state since 1992. Four in 10 were very conservative, a strong group for Cruz. But Cruz was quite weak among moderate voters, with single-digit support in this group, marking a significant vulnerability for him should he reach a general election contest.

Three-quarters identified themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians – again a record, up from 65 percent in 2012. It was evangelicals who lifted Cruz to victory in Iowa; they made up 64 percent of voters there, vs. just 25 percent in New Hampshire, where Trump won.

In this case, though, Trump ran competitively among evangelicals – splitting them with Cruz, with Rubio not far behind. Trump did particularly well among evangelicals who are less strongly conservative and were less focused on a candidate who shares their religious beliefs or their values overall.

That said, a substantial 45 percent of South Carolina voters said it mattered “a great deal” to them that a candidate shares their religious beliefs – up very sharply from 26 percent in 2012, and a strong group for Cruz; he led Trump by 10 points among these voters, and Rubio by 14.

In one newly hotly debated issue, the exit poll asked voters which of five candidates they’d trust most to handle nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court. They divided among Cruz, Trump and Rubio on this question, 30, 26 and 21 percent apiece.

Beyond these difference, a key theme of the 2016 GOP primaries – discontent with the status quo – continued in South Carolina. Consider:

-Nearly half of voters said they wanted the next president to be from “outside the political establishment.” Similar numbers said so in the last two contests; Trump won 46 percent of outsider voters in Iowa, then vaulted to 62 percent among this group in New Hampshire – with a similar result in South Carolina.

-Nearly all said they were dissatisfied or even angry about the way the federal government is working – including four in 10 who are downright angry about it. Angry voters were another widely pro-Trump group, again as in New Hampshire. (They divided between Trump and Cruz in Iowa.)

-Fifty-three percent said they feel “betrayed” by the Republican Party (an unbalanced question, but still). It was nearly as high, 47 percent, in New Hampshire. While not cutting strongly to vote, it seems a painful result for the party’s leaders.

-Finding a candidate who “can bring needed change” was the No. 2 attribute in South Carolina, behind “shares my values.” “Change” voters were a strong group for Trump in Iowa and New Hampshire alike, and he won them this Saturday by an overwhelming margin – 20 points over Cruz.

While Trump and Cruz benefited from discontent, Rubio was strong on other grounds – particularly electability. Among those who picked it as the key attribute they were looking for, 49 percent voted for Rubio, 28 points ahead of his closest competitor on this score, Cruz.

Among other results, there was a difference in South Carolina on issue priorities, compared with Iowa and New Hampshire: Terrorism was the No. 1 concern, cited by a third of voters, while just fewer than three in 10 picked either the economy and jobs or government spending. Terrorism ranked lower on the list – third – in Iowa and New Hampshire alike. The most differentiating issues, though, were the economy and (albeit lowest on the list) immigration – Trump won both groups that cited these as their main concern.

Whatever the election outcome, Trump appeared to have lost to Cruz in the debate over who’s run the most unfair campaign: Four in 10 said it was Trump, while a third pointed to Cruz, with three others (Rubio, Jeb Bush and John Kasich) in single digits.

That said, there was a Trump-or-bust aspect to his support: Forty-four percent of Trump voters said they’d only be satisfied if he’s the nominee. For comparison, just 23 percent of Cruz’s supporters, and 16 percent of Rubio’s, said they’d be satisfied only with their man.

There were a substantial number of late deciders – four in 10 said they made up their minds only today or in the last few days. It mattered most to Rubio; his support peaked in this group. Early deciders, as in previous states, tilted to Trump.

Looking at a profile of each of the top candidates’ support in South Carolina provides a nice summary of their sources of support. Consider:

A nearly unanimous 92 percent of Trump’s supporters are looking for an outsider, 89 percent support banning Muslims and 81 percent are looking chiefly for a candidate either who “will bring needed change” or “tells it like it is.”

Among Cruz’s supporters, 85 percent are evangelicals, 61 percent are looking for a candidate who shares their religious beliefs, 60 percent are very conservative and 56 percent chiefly are looking for someone who shares their values.

Nearly two-thirds of Rubio’s supporters are college graduates, 43 percent are focused on shared values and 32 percent care most about electability. And Rubio has the smallest shares of voters, among the top candidates, who are angry at the federal government or who favor deporting undocumented immigrants.

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