New York Republican Primary Exit Poll Analysis

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

April 19, 2016, 9:00 PM

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

Record levels of demand for an outsider, a straight-talker and a change agent lifted Donald Trump to an easy primary victory in his home state, even while – underscoring the party’s deep rifts – a remarkable six in 10 of his opponents’ backers said they wouldn’t support him in November.

Trump, in by far his biggest win to date, benefited from a sense among most New York Republican primary voters that he’s got the best chance to beat Hillary Clinton were she the Democratic nominee in November – and from a record number of early deciders in GOP primaries to date, another sign of his home-state advantage.

Ted Cruz failed to consolidate the anti-Trump vote, as he did in Wisconsin; indeed even strong conservatives and evangelicals, while fewer in number, both backed Trump. Instead a greater mix of moderate and even liberal GOP voters helped John Kasich to one of his best nights.

Even with Trump’s easy win, preliminary exit poll results marked the continuing splits within the Republican Party. Six in 10 GOP primary voters said the 2016 campaign has done more to divide than to energize the party – a sharp contrast to the Democratic race, in which two-thirds said the contest has done more to energize their side.

Further, among Kasich and Cruz supporters, a majority – 59 percent in preliminary results – said they would not vote for Trump in November if he’s the party’s nominee, a new high. That result was driven chiefly by rejection of Trump by Kasich voters – seven in 10 they wouldn’t back Trump in the fall, as did nearly half of Cruz voters.

Emerging Themes

Here's a summary of what we are seeing grouped by key themes.

Beat Clinton: In one example of his home-state advantage, Trump leads on electability among New York GOP primary voters in preliminary exit poll results. More than half of voters say he has the best chance to beat Hillary Clinton in November, vs. two in 10 for Kasich and fewer than two in 10 for Cruz.

That’s a sharp contrast to Wisconsin, where a plurality, 43 percent, said Cruz has the best chance to beat Clinton, more than said so about Trump (37 percent) or Kasich (17 percent).

Vote in November: Trump also prevails among New York GOP primary voters in terms of their own potential support in November, according to preliminary exit poll results. Should he be the party’s nominee, about half in these preliminary results say they’d definitely vote for him; a quarter flatly rule him out. “Definitely support” numbers are lower for Cruz (about a quarter) and Kasich (three in 10). And more Republican primary voters flatly rule out Cruz in November than do so for Trump.

The deep rifts within the party are highlighted by the number of Trump supporters who say they would not vote for Cruz or Kasich in November – roughly four in 10 – and by the number of Cruz or Kasich voters who say they wouldn’t vote for Trump, nearly as many.

Contested convention? More than seven in 10 New York GOP voters in preliminary exit poll results say the candidate with the most votes in the primaries should win the party’s nomination; a quarter instead favors a contested convention, saying that delegates should pick whichever nominee they think best. That’s less than half the level of support for a contested convention than we saw in Wisconsin, where just 43 percent favored going with the candidate with the most votes, while 55 percent said the delegates should choose.

Similar to Wisconsin, Trump’s New York supporters overwhelmingly oppose a contested convention. It’s much lower among Cruz/Kasich supporters, though, unlike Wisconsin, still a majority.

GOP rift: In another example of the wounds within the GOP, nearly six in 10 New York voters in preliminary exit poll results say this year’s campaign has mostly divided the party rather than energized it. Comparable views on the Democratic side are much more muted.

Early deciders: More than half of voters said they decided on their choice more than a month ago, and seven in 10 of them backed Trump – a record number of early deciders, and his best result among them.

Conservatives/evangelicals: In preliminary exit poll results, evangelicals are in short supply, as are strong conservatives – groups customarily better for Cruz. Evangelicals account for about a quarter of voters in preliminary exit poll results (vs. 42 percent in Wisconsin and 58 percent in all primaries to date).

“Very” conservatives account for two in 10 voters, vs. 31 percent in Wisconsin and 34 percent overall.

Wall Street: We’ve noted that more than six in 10 Democratic primary voters say Wall Street does more to hurt than help the U.S. economy; turns out the Street isn’t widely popular among Republican primary voters, either. They divide about evenly on whether Wall Street helps or hurts the economy.

Outsider: Sixty-one percent of GOP voters said they were looking for an outsider; matching the high in the Nevada caucuses. Trump won these outsider voters even more overwhelmingly than usual, with 85 percent of their votes, compared with 65 percent across previous contests to date. It was both record Trump support, as well as record-tying turnout, in this voting group.

Muslims/Immigrants/Anger: Six in 10 New York GOP primary voters in these preliminary results also favor banning non-U.S. Muslims from entering the country – a substantial majority, albeit but down from its average elsewhere. Another signature Trump issue again does less well; just a third of GOP primary voters support deporting undocumented immigrants. It’s been higher on average – but not a majority – in previous GOP contests to date. Also, more than a third are “angry” with the federal government, roughly on par with previous primaries.

Attributes: Six in 10 GOP voters said they were chiefly looking either for a candidate who “can bring needed change” or “tells it like it is” – again a record high, up from 50 percent on average in previous primaries. Trump won two-thirds of “change” voters and nine in 10 of those who prized a plain-talker, both new highs.

Trump, who as usual did especially well with less-educated voters, won six in 10 of those who lack a college degree, tying his highest support in this group to date.

That said, even in this victory Trump again lost voters looking chiefly for a candidate who shares their values, with just two in 10 support in this group, third to Kasich – who beat Trump nearly by 2-1 among these values-focused voters – and Cruz alike.

Even as he won, Trump encountered slightly broader-than-usual opposition to one of his signature issues, deporting undocumented immigrants, with 36 percent in support of the idea, vs. an average of 41 percent across previous primaries. That said, 68 percent favored his proposal to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the United States, matching its average this year. Trump won seven in 10 in each of those groups, again both new highs.

Cruz, coming off a big win in Wisconsin, encountered stiff headwinds. Trump beat him even in some of his usual best groups, by 61-28 percent among very conservative voters and by 49-18 percent among evangelicals. Cruz won 42 percent of values voters in previous contests, but just 33 percent in New York – possibly a rebuke to his negative comment on “New York values” in January.

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