Indiana Democratic Primary Exit Poll Analysis

Who turned out in Tuesday's Indiana primary?

May 3, 2016, 10:00 PM

— -- Young white liberals piled into the Indiana Democratic primary, boosting Bernie Sanders’ chances and landing Hillary Clinton at a new low in her ratings for honesty and trustworthiness. But Clinton had her pushback – including the fact that more than seven in 10 voters said they expect her ultimately to win the nomination.

Not without a fight, Sanders supporters said. Consider:

Preliminary exit poll results from Indiana’s Democratic primary show a contest with turnout that’s higher than usual this year among liberals (notably strong liberals), young voters, whites and those focused on a candidate who’s honest or cares about people like them – all some of Bernie Sanders’ better groups to date.

Liberals: While turnout among liberals has been extraordinarily high all year, so it was in Indiana: Sixty-seven percent of Democratic voters described themselves as liberals in preliminary exit poll results, compared with 62 percent on average in previous Democratic contests this year. Twenty-seven percent were “very” liberal, similar to previous races and another comparatively strong Sanders group; the difference in Indiana was that he won them by 64-36 percent, compared with 50-50 in earlier contests this year.

There have been more liberals in just a handful of states this cycle. And the trend within Indiana itself is remarkable: In 2008, liberals accounted for 39 percent of Democratic primary voters, strong liberals for 14 percent – far fewer than their numbers today.

Young Voters and Whites: Nearly half of voters in preliminary exit poll results – 47 percent – were age 45 or younger, a new high this year in a strong group for Sanders. (The previous record was 45 percent in Michigan, an unexpected Sanders win.) Further, whites, another better group for Sanders, accounted for three-quarters of voters, compared with their typical six in 10 in previous races this year.

Combining these groups, whites younger than 45 accounted for a third of Indiana voters, well over their customary 22 percent on average in previous primaries, and they backed Sanders by a vast 78-22 percent. Meanwhile nonwhites age 45 and older – a huge group for Clinton – accounted for fewer voters than typical, 11 percent, compared with 22 percent on average.

Sanders’ performance was not built on whites alone. As in some other Midwestern states, he ran competitively with Clinton among nonwhites younger than 45; 53-47 percent, Sanders-Clinton, in preliminary exit poll results.

Demographics: More than seven in 10 voters in preliminary exit poll results are whites, vs. an average of 61 percent in previous primaries and a better group for Sanders in most contests to date. Nearly half of voters are under age 45, also more than average this election cycle. And seven in 10 are liberals, including three in 10 strong liberals, both on pace for records in Indiana and among the most of any state to vote so far this year. These trends are beneficial to Sanders; we’ll watch as the evening progresses and the exit poll results are updated.

Attributes: Voters focused either on honesty or on empathy voters are outpacing their average for the year in these early exit poll results. More than six in 10 Democratic voters in Indiana say the most important candidate trait is someone who’s honest and trustworthy (three in 10) or who cares about people like them (also three in 10); fewer, four in 10, say it’s someone with the right experience or who’s most electable. Generally, so far this year, the former have been better been for Sanders, the latter, much better for Clinton.

Inspiring: Fifty-eight percent in preliminary exit poll results said Sanders was the more inspiring candidate, vs. four in 10 who said it was Clinton. Sanders’ result was close to his best on this question, 59 percent in Wisconsin.

Notably, in New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania, which Clinton won, she was seen as more inspiring than Sanders (narrowly in Pennsylvania); in Connecticut and Wisconsin, by contrast, Sanders prevailed on this question.

Among other results, Indiana Democratic voters divided on who has the best chance to beat Donald Trump (with at best a slight edge for Clinton, 50-47 percent – less for her than usual). That said, 73 percent also said they expected Clinton ultimately to be the Democratic nominee.

Electability: Early exit poll results indicate that Clinton is retaining her advantage on who’s most likely to win the Democratic nomination, but she’s doing much worse than usual in who voters say would best able to beat Trump. On the latter, it’s very close, while she beat Sanders by more than 2-1 in previous contests.

Ready for a woman? No matter how they voted today, most Democratic primary voters believe the country’s ready for a women president. In a new question, nearly six in 10 in Indiana say the country’s definitely ready, with most of the rest saying it’s “probably” ready.

Not nice: The campaign’s been more contentious on the Democratic side of late, but there’s little indication of that in preliminary results in this state. Only about a quarter of Indiana voters say Clinton’s attacked Sanders unfairly, while two in 10 say that Sanders has done the same to Clinton.

Realism and Obama: Clinton had other pushback. Three-quarters saw her policies as realistic, vs. just more than six in 10 for Sanders – but the gap, in preliminary exit poll results, was bit smaller than usual (76 percent Clinton, to 57 percent Sanders) in the nine states where the question’s been asked before.

Clinton’s also done well so far by linking herself with Barack Obama. More Indiana voters think the next president should continue Obama’s policies, half, while fewer, just more than a third, prefer a more liberal direction. But, again, the gap’s smaller than usual. Supporters of more liberal policies are more numerous than average in Indiana, a group that’s voted heavily for Sanders in past contests.

Honesty: Clinton’s main weakness has been questions about her honesty, and this was especially so in preliminary exit poll results in Indiana. Just 53 percent saw her as honest and trustworthy – a new low in the states in which it’s been asked, and nearly 30 percentage points fewer than the number who said the same about Sanders.

Other results followed these. More than six in 10 voters in Indiana said the most important candidate trait was someone who’s honest and trustworthy (three in 10) or who cares about people like them (a third); large majorities in both groups backed Sanders – 83 and 67 percent, respectively. Clinton came back with a very large majority of those focused on experience or electability.

Economics: Sanders continued to benefit from a sense that Wall Street hurts rather than helps the U.S. economy (more than six in 10 said so) and from antipathy to free trade – 46 percent said it costs jobs, vs. 40 percent who said it creates them. Nearly half of Indiana voters said the next president should continue Obama’s policies, while 37 percent preferred a more liberal direction. The pro-Obama group was a better one for Clinton – but again, those seeking more liberal policies were more numerous than average in Indiana. They’ve been surpassed in just three states.

Democratic solidarity: Finally, while the Democrats have had their squabbles, exit poll results have indicated far less internal damage compared with the GOP contest. Seven in 10 Democratic voters in Indiana said the primaries have energized the party as opposed to dividing it, with no difference between Clinton and Sanders supporters on the issue. Two in 10 Clinton voters said they wouldn’t vote for Sanders in November, and three in 10 Sanders voters said that about Clinton. The alienation rates were higher on the GOP side.

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