Northeastern Primaries: Democratic Exit Poll Analysis

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

ByABC News
April 26, 2016, 9:00 PM

— -- Democrats voted on Tuesday in five primaries: Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

Who turned out and what motivated their votes?

The ABC News Analysis Desk has analysis of the exit polls.


Racial and ethnic minorities lifted Hillary Clinton to an easy victory in Maryland, but she also won white voters in the state by a broader-than-usual margin, an unbeatable expansion of her support profile. Her position on gun control provided a further boost.

Blacks, Hispanics and other nonwhites accounted for nearly six in 10 Maryland Democratic primary voters, with blacks alone accounting for nearly half the total in preliminary exit poll results. Clinton won blacks by her customary 3-1 margin, and all nonwhites by about 40 percentage points. Notably, she also beat Sanders by about 15 points among whites, by far her best performance among whites in a non-Southern state to date.

Clinton won seven in 10 women in these preliminary results – better even than in her blow-out win in New York last week. Again notably, she also won men by a double-digit margin; as with whites, that was her best to date among men in a non-Southern state. Preliminary data indicated that she won white women by about 25 points in Maryland and ran evenly with Sanders among white men, both far better than her typical results this year.

Among her attractions, Clinton far surpassed Sanders – by 3-1 – on who would best be able to beat Donald Trump in November, by 2-1 on who’d best handle gun policy and even by more than 10 points on who’s the more “inspiring” candidate.

Pennsylvania and Connecticut:

In contrast to Maryland, where nonwhites made up a majority of voters, they accounted for three in 10 in Pennsylvania and a quarter in Connecticut. And while Clinton took home more than six in 10 nonwhites in these states, she did less well than in Maryland among whites. Her margins among women were smaller as well.

That said, Clinton far surpassed Sanders, by 2-1, as the candidate most likely to beat Donald Trump in November. And has been the case throughout the campaign, she was buoyed by voters who wanted the next president generally to continue Barack Obama’s policies. She won seven in 10 of their votes, and they outnumbered those who wanted more liberal policies, though more narrowly in Connecticut than elsewhere.

On a specific policy issue, majorities in Pennsylvania and Connecticut (as in Maryland) said they trusted Clinton more than Sanders to handle gun policy. She beat Sanders by a similar 60-36 percent on this question in New York.

Sanders, for his part, did better than usual among voters younger than 45, taking in about two-thirds of their votes in each of these states. A challenge was that they accounted for just more than three in 10 voters in preliminary results, fewer than the four in 10 they’ve been averaging, and Clinton easily won in the larger 45-plus age group.

Sanders also got some ground in these states by the fact that more than six in 10 Democratic voters thought Wall Street hurt the U.S. economy more than it helped it. He won these anti-Wall Street voters by about 10 points in Pennsylvania – and by about 25 points in Connecticut.

Obama: Clinton’s done well in the contest so far by closely aligning herself with Obama administration’s policies, and that could help her again today. In preliminary exit poll results, more than half of Democratic voters in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut say they’d like to see the next president continue Obama’s policies, vs. three in 10 who favor a more liberal approach. Obama fans have been a very strong Clinton group in previous Democratic primaries.

Electability and inspiration: Democratic primary voters in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut see Hillary Clinton as having a better chance than Bernie Sanders to beat Donald Trump in November.

Clinton also has a slight lead on which candidate is more inspirational, similar to what we saw in New York than Wisconsin. However, there’s considerable variation by state on the inspiration question. In Connecticut, a majority thinks Sanders is most inspirational, in Pennsylvania they’re running fairly closely and in Maryland a majority says it’s Clinton.

By contrast, there’s little difference across states in who’s seen as most likely to beat Trump – it’s Clinton across the board.

Qualities: More than half of Democratic voters in preliminary exit poll results say that either honesty or empathy – a candidate who “cares about people like me” – are most important to their vote. These voters – especially those most focused honest and trustworthiness – have backed Sanders to date. That said, among those who call electability or experience most important, Clinton’s dominated. Combined, honesty/empathy voters have outnumbered experience/electability voters on average in 2016, 54-43 percent, very close to today’s preliminary results.

Partisanship: Democrats dominate in today’s main primaries, which, like New York, are closed to those not registered as Democrats. Independents – a strong group for Sanders – have averaged 23 percent across all Democratic contests to date. They account for a smaller share in preliminary results today; we’ll watch to see if that holds. Clinton’s won nearly two-thirds of Democrats previously, while Sanders has won a similar number of independents.

Age: Young voters – who’ve voted for Sanders in previous primaries by a vast 70-29 percent – have made up 17 percent of voters in primaries to date. Today, they’re accounting for only about one in 10 voters in preliminary exit poll results.