Demand for an outsider and vast support for a ban on Muslims entering the country helped Donald Trump to victory in the South Carolina Republican primary. He was pulled back, all the same, by values voters and strong conservatives – setting the stage for epic battles ahead.
Hillary Clinton, for her part, weathered an influx of liberals in the Nevada Democratic caucuses to prevail with help from women, older voters, blacks – and a major boost from Obama loyalists. That said, she lost Hispanics to Bernie Sanders and again was hammered among young voters, a sign of further tests on this side as well.
Among other results, Saturday’s contests showed the remarkable polarization currently at play. Seven in 10 Democratic caucus-goers in Nevada described themselves as liberal, sharply up from 2008, while a record 82 percent of GOP voters were conservatives. Turnout among evangelicals also set a state record in South Carolina, and Trump ran surprisingly well among them.
Results of the South Carolina exit and Nevada entrance polls were analyzed for ABC News by Langer Research Associates. A full report follows – first on the Republican race, then the Democratic contest.
The Republican Race
Strikingly, nearly three-quarters of South Carolina 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; in South Carolina, 38 percent of these voters backed Trump.
Fewer Republican voters – but still more than four in 10 – favored deporting undocumented immigrants, again a very strong group for Trump, with 45 percent supporting him. And 44 percent overall picked Trump among five top contenders as best able to handle the economy, more than 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 36 percent for Cruz and 26 percent for Marco Rubio.
As noted, 82 percent in South Carolina identified themselves as conservative, up from 68 percent in 2012 to a record in exit polls in the state since 1992. Nearly four in 10 were very conservative, a strong group for Cruz. But Cruz was quite weak among moderate voters, with single-digit support, 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 won evangelicals – narrowly ahead of Cruz, with Rubio not far behind (31-27-22 percent). 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 44 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 better group for Cruz. He beat Trump by 7 points among these voters, and Rubio by 13.
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, 29, 27 and 21 percent apiece.
Beyond these results, 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 these voters in Iowa, then vaulted to 62 percent among this group in New Hampshire – with a similar result in South Carolina, where he won 61 percent of outsider voters.
• Nearly all said they were dissatisfied with 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 – he won 42 percent of their votes in South Carolina. (They divided between Trump and Cruz in Iowa.)
• Fifty-two 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 – 23 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 (albeit just 15 percent overall), 49 percent voted for Rubio, 30 points ahead of his closest competitors on this score, Cruz and Trump alike.
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-five percent of Trump voters said they’d only be satisfied if he’s the nominee. For comparison, just 24 percent of Cruz’s supporters, and 16 percent of Rubio’s, said they’d be satisfied only with their man.
There also were a substantial number of late deciders – four in 10 said they finally 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, heavily favored Trump.
Looking at a profile of each of the top candidates’ support in South Carolina provides a useful summary of their sources of support:
• A nearly unanimous 92 percent of Trump’s supporters were looking for an outsider, 89 percent supported banning Muslims and 81 percent were seeking a candidate who “will bring needed change” or “tells it like it is.”
• Among Cruz’s supporters, 85 percent were evangelicals, 61 percent said it matters a great deal that a candidate shares their religious beliefs, 60 percent were very conservative and 57 percent chiefly wanted someone who shares their values.
• Nearly two-thirds of Rubio’s supporters were college graduates, 43 percent were focused on shared values and 32 percent cared most about electability. Rubio had the smallest shares of voters, among the top candidates, who are angry at the federal government or who favor deporting undocumented immigrants.
The Democratic Race
A battle between hearts and heads was apparent in the Democratic caucuses in Nevada, with Clinton trouncing Sanders among voters focused on experience and electability while Sanders whomped among those looking for a candidate who’s honest or “cares about people like me.”
Differences among population groups were striking. Seventy-six percent of caucus-goers under age 45 supported Sanders, including 82 percent of those younger than 30 – continuing his absolute dominance among young voters. That said, Clinton won by more than 2-1 among those age 45 and older – and they accounted for nearly two-thirds of the caucus turnout.
A remarkable seven in 10 described themselves as liberals, including a third “very” liberal – far higher than their share in the 2008 Nevada caucuses, 45 and 18 percent, respectively. Liberals, however, did not break as strongly for Sanders as they did in New Hampshire. Here they backed him by 51-46 percent, while Clinton countered with 59 percent support among moderates, 13 points better than her result in this group in Nevada in ‘08.
In a highly helpful result for Clinton, half of caucus-goers said the next president should generally continue Barack Obama’s policies; she won 75 percent of their votes. Sanders got 77 percent of those who prefer more liberal policies, but there were fewer of them.
In the first state this year with sizable numbers of minority voters, Sanders won Hispanics, 53-45 percent – in a group Clinton won with 64 percent support in 2008. But Clinton, in return, trounced Sanders among blacks, 76-22 percent. Blacks make up a much larger share of voters in the next state ahead for the Democrats, South Carolina.
As noted, the gender gap was sharp – 57 percent for Clinton among women, 53 percent for Sanders among men.
In terms of party loyalties, about two in 10 participants identified themselves as independents – similar to the 2008 Nevada caucuses and the Iowa contest this year, and far below the share of independents in New Hampshire. Independents were a huge group for Sanders, with 71 percent supporting him. But Clinton prevailed among mainline Democrats, with 58 percent support – enough to tip the contest her way.
There were divisions among education and income groups, with Clinton doing better among more educated and higher-income caucus-goers. (The age gap contributed somewhat to these results.) Clinton won post-graduates by a broad 62-35 percent and voters with $100,000-plus incomes by 54-42 percent; the vote was much closer among others.
Specifically in the hearts-vs-heads battle, Clinton won 80 percent of voters focused on the candidate who “can win in November” and even more – 92 percent – of those most interested in experience. Among those who instead cared most about a candidate who “cares about people like me,” 72 percent took Sanders, as did even more, 82 percent, of those looking for a candidate they see as honest and trustworthy.
Dealing with the economy and jobs was the top issue for Democratic caucus-goers, and those who selected it went for Clinton overs Sanders by 55-41 percent. Next were income inequality, strong for Sanders, and health care, strong for Clinton.
A wave of newcomers showed up: Six in 10 said it was their first time attending a Nevada Democratic presidential caucus. Sanders did better in this group, with 53 percent support. But Clinton pushed back strongly among repeat attenders, with 62 percent.
Union household voters accounted for nearly three in 10 caucus participants. Clinton won them, 54-43 percent, regardless of the decision of an influential union there not to endorse either candidate. She also won nonunion voters, but by a less-comfortable 50-47 percent.
Also on the entrance poll was a question asking caucus-goers whom they think would best handle nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court. Clinton prevailed on this question as well, 54-43 percent over Sanders.
As on the Republican side, a profile helps identify each Democratic candidate’s core supporters. Most striking were these:
• Eighty-six percent of Sanders’ voters were looking for a candidate with honesty or empathy; 77 percent of Clintons’ focused on experience or electability.
• Seventy-four percent of Clinton supporters said they want the next president to continue Obama’s policies. Sixty-eight percent of Sanders’ voters want a more liberal approach.
• Forty percent of Sanders’ voters were mainly concerned with income inequality, vs. just 18 percent of Clinton’s.
• Fifty-eight percent of Sanders’ supports were younger than 45. Eighty-two percent of Clinton’s were 45 and older.
Finally, among caucus goers who decided in just the last few days, Clinton won by 51-37 percent. (The rest were “uncommitted.”) Results were mixed among those who decided less recently, but with a big Sanders lead, 58-40 percent, among those who decided between a week and a month ago. There were, however, not enough of them to save the day for the Vermonter.
Analysis by Gary Langer, with Gregory Holyk and Margaret Tyson.