Haley captures independents and college grads, but Trump base holds fast in NH: Exit poll

The economy and immigration were named as important issues.

January 23, 2024, 9:44 PM

Donald Trump held fast to his core support groups even as anti-Trump voters coalesced around Nikki Haley in the New Hampshire Republican primary on Tuesday, producing a far different race than Trump's blowout victory in Iowa last week, albeit still a clear win for the former president.

Strong turnout by unaffiliated voters and a comparative abundance of moderates stood out in exit poll results, underscoring the state's often unconventional voter profile. Forty-six percent reported being registered as "undeclared" rather than Republican vs. a previous record of 45% in 2012. Haley won those undeclared voters by a wide margin, 65-34%.

Under New Hampshire law, the primary is open, allowing independents to vote for either the Democratic or Republican nominee.

Haley, notably, ran nearly evenly among women, the exit poll indicated, a 48-50% split. The margin of Trump's victory came almost entirely among men.

Moderates, a strong Haley group, accounted for 28% of voters, compared with 9% in last week's Iowa caucuses. Just 25% were very conservative vs. 52% in Iowa. And white evangelicals were 20%, compared with 55% in Iowa.

Trump prevailed by wide margins among groups such as conservatives, evangelicals (even if fewer in number), those focused on immigration, non-college graduates and those who expressed the deepest economic and social discontent. For example, he won 81% of those who said they're "angry" about the country's direction.

A substantial one in four voters said they decided on their candidate within the past week -- that is, after the Iowa caucuses. Haley won these later deciders by a 19-point margin over Trump. She did even better with those who decided in the past month.

But those who chose earlier -- nearly six in 10 voters -- backed Trump overwhelmingly, by 41 points over Haley.

Indeed, 61% said they'd be satisfied with Trump as the party's nominee. That compares with 52% satisfied with Haley.

Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley delivers remarks at her primary night rally at the Grappone Conference Center on Jan. 23, 2024 in Concord, N.H.
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While Trump stayed strong in his GOP base, two groups in particular showed non-Trump voters coming together for Haley. She won 56% of college graduates, compared with her 28% share in this group in Iowa, when she was also competing against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. And she won 60% of self-described independent voters, up sharply from 34% last week.

Using self-reported partisanship, 43% in New Hampshire identified themselves as independents; the record is 47% in 2012. An additional 6% described themselves as Democrats. That left 51% of Republican primary voters identifying as Republicans -- two points more than the low set in 2012.

While 35% identified themselves as part of the MAGA movement that Trump started, that was down from 46% in Iowa. Fifty-one percent were Biden election deniers, compared with 66% in Iowa. And 42% said that if Trump were convicted of a crime, they'd consider him unfit to serve as president. In Iowa, fewer, 31%, said the same. (He denies all wrongdoing.)

In another sign of non-Trumpers turning to Haley, she won 65% of those who said they are not part of the MAGA movement, compared with 35% of this group in Iowa. At the same time, with DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy now out of the race, MAGA movement people backed Trump almost unanimously.

It wasn't just in the anti-Trump base that Haley improved. She won 28% of white evangelical voters in New Hampshire, up from 13% in Iowa. She improved similarly among non-college graduates.

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he takes the stage during his New Hampshire presidential primary election night watch party, in Nashua, N.H., Jan. 23, 2024.
Mike Segar/Reuters

Another question marked Haley's position as chiefly the anti-Trump choice -- and showed Trump's popularity in his base. Eighty percent of Trump voters said they strongly favored their candidate, as opposed to liking him with reservations or mainly disliking others.

By contrast, just 31% of Haley voters strongly favored her, as opposed to the other options. Instead, 39% of Haley voters mainly disliked her opponent.

In another shift from Iowa, fewer New Hampshire voters were looking chiefly for a candidate who "shares my values" -- 30% vs. 41% in Iowa -- and more were looking for one who "has the right temperament," 21% vs. 11% in Iowa.

Trump's best attribute group was voters looking for someone who "fights for people like me" -- three in 10 voters picked it, and he won 86% of their votes. Haley, by contrast, won 85% of those primarily interested in a candidate with the right temperament.

A voter fills out their ballots on Jan. 23, 2024, in Loudon, New Hampshire.
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From a list of four issues, the economy (37%) and immigration (31%) prevailed in importance, compared with foreign policy, cited by 14%, and abortion, 12%. Trump again swamped Haley among immigration voters, while the contest between them was closer among economy voters.

Other results also underscore the broad differences between New Hampshire and Iowa voters. For example, 61% in Iowa favored a federal ban on abortions; in New Hampshire, this fell to 27%.

Economic sentiment was sour -- a recurring theme in the country that pre-dates the GOP primary, -- with 75% saying the economy is in not-so-good or poor shape. Relatedly, 79% were dissatisfied or even angry with the way things are going in the country today. And a majority of voters, 57%, said they expected life to be worse for the next generation of Americans, up dramatically from 20% in 2020 and 33% in 2016.

A question for Haley is where she goes from here. In the next major primary in South Carolina in a month, more traditional GOP groups typically prevail -- strong conservatives, Republicans rather than independents and, especially, white evangelicals, who accounted for 67% voters in the 2016 South Carolina GOP primary.