Democratic Primary Exit Poll Analysis

Here's a look at who voted in tonight's Wisconsin primary and why.

ByABC News
April 5, 2016, 11:00 PM

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

Preliminary exit poll results in the Democratic race in Wisconsin suggest that Bernie Sanders benefited both from the state’s demographics and from advantages in excitement, inspiration and honesty, while Hillary Clinton pushed back with support from mainline Democrats.

Emerging Themes

Inspiration vs. electability

The Sanders-Clinton dichotomy appeared in results on which candidate is seen as more inspiring – more picked Sanders, 59 percent – vs. who’s likeliest to beat Donald Trump in November – more picked Clinton, 53 percent. Further, nearly nine in 10 identified Sanders as honest and trustworthy, vs. 57 percent who said the same about Clinton. And twice as many Democratic voters said they’re excited about what Sanders would do in office as said the same about Clinton, 32 percent vs. 14 percent.

Demonstrating Sanders’ unusual strength, he ran competitively with Clinton, 51-47 percent, in who’d be the best commander-in-chief. And he won by particularly wide margins among those very worried about the economy’s direction, those who expect life for the next generation of Americans to be worse than it is today and those who think trade with other countries takes away U.S. jobs. Finally, he won 78 percent of those who favor more liberal policies than Barack Obama’s; Clinton won those who want to continue Obama’s policies, buy by less of a margin.


In contrast to divisions on the GOP side, about three-quarters of Democratic primary voters are “excited” or “optimistic” about the prospect of a Sanders presidency, as are seven in 10 about a Clinton presidency. Excitement, though, is about twice as high for Sanders than for Clinton.


Clinton has had problems with views of her honesty and which are apparent today in Wisconsin. Just six in 10 Wisconsin Democratic voters say she’s honest and trustworthy, vs. about nine in 10 who say so about Sanders. That’s among Sanders’ highest honesty ratings in any primary to date, even approaching his rating in his home state of Vermont.


Whites account for more than eight in 10 Wisconsin Democratic primary voters in preliminary exit poll results, well above the 60 percent they’ve averaged across the 2016 primaries. Nonwhites make up fewer than two in 10 voters, including just one in 10 who are blacks – far below their average levels this year, 40 and 26 percent, respectively.

In previous primaries, whites have voted 50-48 Sanders-Clinton, vs. 72-26 percent Clinton-Sanders among nonwhites. Sanders won whites in recent primaries in North Carolina, Missouri, Illinois and Michigan, though he lost them in Ohio, Florida and Mississippi.


Sixty-three percent of Wisconsin Democratic primary voters said they were looking chiefly for a candidate who “cares about people like me” or who “is honest and trustworthy” (eight points more than average in previous contests) and Sanders won these groups by wide margins, with 70 percent and 82 percent support, respectively, exceeding his usual levels in both cases. Clinton came back with broad support among voters who cared more about experience or electability.

Fewer, four in four in 10, call electability or experience most important, voters among whom Clinton’s dominated. Combined, honesty/empathy voters have outnumbered experience/electability voters on average in 2016, with an even larger than usual margin in preliminary exit poll results today.


Two-thirds of voters in Wisconsin say they’re liberals, including a quarter who say they’re “very” liberal, both on pace to break records in Wisconsin Democratic primaries back to 1976. In 2008, only 46 were liberal and 16 percent were very liberal. Sanders has done much better so far among liberals than he has among moderates and conservatives. (Only a quarter of Wisconsin voters say they’re moderates, on pace for a record low and well down from 40 percent in 2008).


Clinton, for her part, was aided by the fact that mainline Democrats accounted for a bigger than usual share of primary voters – 70 percent, up from 62 percent in 2008 and on pace for a record in the state. She did much better with Democrats than with independents, a strongly pro-Sanders group, here as elsewhere.