Trump's Path Stays Clearest; Clinton's, Perhaps More So (EXIT POLL)

PHOTO: Pictured (L-R) are Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Palm Beach, Fla., March 15, 2016.PlayAP Photo
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This much came clear in the March 15 presidential primaries: Many voters like Donald Trump, while many others don’t. John Kasich is popular in his home state, while Marco Rubio isn’t. Strong conservatives support Ted Cruz. And Hillary Clinton can win Midwestern primaries.

For Clinton, that might be enough, or close to it. For the Republicans, it might not; where that contest heads next remains what it was Tuesday morning: anybody’s guess, albeit with Trump’s path the clearest.

Here’s a rundown of the night’s exit poll results, analyzed for ABC News by Langer Research Associates.

The Republican Race

First and foremost, Trump demonstrated his enduring appeal to discontented Republican voters. Among the 52 percent seeking an outsider, his trademark attribute, he won a vast 69 percent support. Among those favoring deporting undocumented immigrants, it was 58 percent for Trump. Among those who are “angry” at the federal government, 54 percent.

He won majorities, as well, of those who favor temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country (66 percent of all GOP voters on Tuesday night) and who say they’re falling behind financially. He won 47 percent of anti-free trade voters and 44 percent of those “very worried” about the economy. All are impressive results in a multi-candidate race.

Trump, too, looks to have kept the contest triangulated in his favor: With Kasich to his moderate side, Cruz to his conservative right, he keeps marching down the plurality-populated middle.

Yet Trump displayed continued challenges. Among Republicans who did not vote for him Tuesday night, 61 percent said they’d seriously consider a third party candidate if it came down to Trump vs. Clinton in November. Indeed, in another question, 45 percent of non-Trump supporters flatly said they would not vote for him in November if he was the party’s nominee.

Part of this is policy based – as strong as he was among voters who agree with his key issues, Trump was weak among those who oppose them. Some, too, is more personal: Across the five states holding primaries, just 47 percent of GOP voters said they see Trump as honest and trustworthy. In four of these states (not asked in Missouri), 40 percent said he ran the most unfair campaign, nearly twice as many as the next, Ted Cruz.

And as in previous races, the single most-sought-after attribute among Republican voters was a candidate who “shares my values” – and again, hardly any of them voted for Trump. He came back, as always, on telling it “like it is” and pushing for change; but the question begs: Where values don’t match, can hearts and minds follow?

They didn’t in Ohio, where they loved the governor: Voters there were focused on shared values and supported Kasich by a smashing 64-22 percent over his nearest competitor on the issue, Cruz, with a typical 10 percent for Trump. The question is where Kasich goes from here; in all other states combined for which we have exit or entrance polls this year, he’s won vastly fewer values voters, a mere 15 percent.

Kasich, at least, lived to fight another day, unlike Rubio, flattened in his home state, where Trump won just about every group in town. Even in a hypothetical two-way matchup, Trump beat Rubio, and for the junior Florida senator that was all she wrote.

Cruz, for his part, moved forward as the true-believers’ heartthrob, consolidating his support among very conservative voters in the states where he was most competitive, with 54 percent of their votes in Missouri, 53 percent in North Carolina and 51 percent in Illinois. Those were well above his previous average in this group (42 percent). He travels on, with Kasich and Trump, toward a fate still unknown, and perhaps increasingly to be determined in the narrow world of delegate head-counts.

The Democratic Race

Clinton, like Trump, made it look easy in Florida, for (of course) entirely different reasons: Half the state’s voters were racial or ethnic minorities, and she cleaned up in these groups, with 79 percent of blacks and 72 percent of Hispanics. The bigger challenge was Ohio, critical for Clinton after Sanders’ surprise win in Michigan last week. There, it took more of a village.

Clinton again won blacks, but by less of a margin than in the South; the reason is Sanders peeled off half of blacks under age 45 in Ohio and Illinois alike, even better than his showing among young blacks (41 percent) in Michigan last week. Clinton pushed back, though, by winning white voters in Ohio by 53-47 percent. She’d lost whites in Michigan to Sanders by 14 points.

The turnaround in Ohio was boosted, in particular, by white women; Clinton won them by 61-39 percent, as good as her level among white women in Florida, and considerably better than in the other states voting Tuesday.

Age mattered, too: While Sanders continued to whomp among young voters, seven in 10 of those 45 and older backed Clinton – and they made up 62 percent of the Ohio electorate.

Clinton found her footing in Ohio on issues, as well, to some extent defanging Sanders on free trade – she won anti-trade voters, a group Sanders took in Michigan. As many saw him as too anti-business as those saw her as too pro-business. And four in 10 called his policies unrealistic, twice as many as said so about hers.

Clinton’s victory in Illinois, while more closely fought, served to underscore her Ohio success. Yet as Clinton moved on, she did so with some baggage. Across Tuesday’s five states, 60 percent saw her as honest and trustworthy; good enough (and better than Trump in his party) – but far fewer than the 80 percent who said the same about Sanders. Moreover, two of the top three attributes of interest to Democratic voters went to Sanders – honesty (those who picked it voted for him by 70-28 percent) and empathy (a group he won by 56-43 percent).

That said, Clinton came back to crush Sanders with more than 80 percent support among those focused on experience or electability. And when Democratic voters were asked whom they saw as likeliest to beat Trump as the Republican nominee, they picked Clinton over Sanders by a broad 68-29 percent. As the Democratic race goes forth, that’s one part of the argument that Clinton appears to have won.

Analysis by Gary Langer, with Gregory Holyk, Chad Kiewiet de Jonge, Julie Phelan, Margaret Tyson and Sofi Sinozich