Nevada Entrance Poll Analysis: Trump Rides Wave of Anger to Projected Victory

Who turned out in the Republican Nevada caucuses and what motivated their votes?

February 24, 2016, 12:00 AM

— -- A new high in desire for an outsider candidate vaulted Donald Trump to a sweeping victory in the Nevada Republican caucuses, completing a three-contest hat trick for the New York billionaire – first New Hampshire, then South Carolina, now Nevada.

Six in 10 caucus-goers in entrance poll results said they were looking for someone from outside the political establishment, compared with about half in previous contests. And a smashing 71 percent of them voted for Trump, a record for his populist campaign among outsider voters.

Six in 10 also described themselves as angry at the way the federal government is working, compared with four in 10 in the previous three states to hold nominating contests this year. Trump won half of these angry voters in Nevada, slightly more than previously. That said, he also easily won voters who were dissatisfied rather than angry – a sign of his broad strength in the state.

Notably, in the first state with meaningful GOP turnout among nonwhites, Trump even won Hispanic caucus-goers, with 45 percent support, as good as Marco Rubio’s and Ted Cruz’s support among Hispanics combined (28 percent and 18 percent, respectively). And, as previously, Trump did best among less-educated voters, winning half of those without a college degree, peaking at 57 percent support among those who haven’t gone beyond high school. Trump’s margin narrowed among more-educated voters, down to a far closer 37-31 percent vs. Rubio among those with a postgraduate degree.

Turnout among evangelicals was up from Nevada caucuses in previous years – 39 percent, vs. 24 percent in 2008 and 28 percent in 2012. As with outsider and angry voters, Trump had his best showing to date among evangelicals, winning four in 10 of their votes, vs. an average of three in 10 in earlier contests.

Cruz, who won evangelicals in Iowa and ran competitively among them in New Hampshire and South Carolina, lost them to Trump in Nevada by 15 percentage points – Trump’s largest margin among evangelicals this year. Cruz, in a serious blow, also failed to beat Rubio among evangelicals.

Somewhat fewer than in the 2012 Nevada caucuses described themselves as “very” conservative – 39 percent now vs. about half four years ago. Trump won 38 percent in this group vs. 34 percent for Cruz – another challenge for Cruz, who won strong conservatives in South Carolina and Iowa alike.

As in other states, a candidate who “shares my values” was the most desired attribute, cited by three in 10 caucus-goers. It again was a strong group for Cruz – he won 42 percent of these values voters – and a weak one for Trump (he won just two in 10).

A quarter instead cited electability in November as the top attribute, and this group lifted Rubio’s total; 51 percent of them backed him, vs. a third for Trump and just 11 percent for Cruz.

Early deciders hit a new high for the year: Seventy-seven percent of caucus-goers said they made up their minds more than a few days ago, up from a previous high of 64 percent in Iowa (and 60 percent in South Carolina, vs. 52 percent in New Hampshire). As in previous states, early deciders were another good group for Trump; he won 53 percent of their votes, including 59 percent of those who decided more than a month ago. Rubio, for his part, did best with late deciders, winning those who chose in the last week, with 41 percent support.

The Nevada caucuses looked a bit different from previous GOP contests in their racial and ethnic makeup. Eighty-five percent of caucus-goers were whites, compared with an average of 96 percent in the Republican races in the previous three states. The comparison to the Nevada Democratic caucuses on Saturday is striking: There whites accounted for 59 percent of the turnout.

Hispanics accounted for 8 percent of caucus-goers; Trump’s 45 percent support in this group was essentially as good as his support among whites, 47 percent.

An ideological comparison between the Nevada Democratic and Republican turnouts marks a gulf between the parties: Eighty-four percent were conservatives, compared with 70 percent liberals in the Democratic caucuses. Moderates were 12 points less numerous in the Republican than in the Democratic caucuses.

If Trump had any weakness in Nevada beyond late deciders, values voters and those focused on electability, it was among young caucus-goers – he won 30 percent of those younger than 30, vs. Rubio’s 38 percent. But young voters were few and far between, accounting for just 7 percent of caucus participants. Those 40 and older, by contrast, accounted for more than eight in 10 voters – and Trump won 48 percent of them, more than double Rubio and Cruz’s scores alike.

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