Trump keeps losing some Republican primary voters to Haley: Will it matter when he faces Biden?

"Oh, they'll vote for me again," he has boasted.

March 20, 2024, 2:22 PM

Now two weeks after she ended her 2024 presidential campaign, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley continues to win some votes against Donald Trump in the Republican primary, despite the former president clinching the party's nomination on March 12.

It remains unclear how many of these anti-Trump votes were cast early, while Haley was still in the race, compared to afterward as a more pointed form of displeasure with Trump. But in the immediate weeks after Haley suspended, she keeps earning some ballots.

For example, with 83% of the expected vote reported from Tuesday's nominating contest in the key swing state of Arizona as of Wednesday afternoon, Haley is at 19% of the total -- or about 108,000 ballots -- with the caveat that Arizonans had seen two weeks of early voting before Haley ended her bid right after Super Tuesday.

She did the best in the counties of Maricopa and Pima, together earning approximately 86,000 votes of those counted so far.

Those areas will likely be key for Trump if he wants to flip the state back in November's general election after rival Joe Biden won it in 2020 by less than 11,000 votes.

"Even though I was hoping and praying that a miracle would happen and Haley would pull it out, I still feel like it's important that my voice was heard," said Patricia Coughlin, of Phoenix, who mailed in her early ballot for Haley. "I'm still hoping and praying that something will happen, but I could never vote for Trump ... I will vote for the candidate that believes in our democracy and the rule of law."

In Trump's home state of Florida, with 98% of the expected vote reported from Tuesday's primary, Haley is at 14%, or around 155,000 votes -- which is only slightly less than the amount of votes that Biden would need to win back from Trump if he were to flip Florida blue in November.

And in Ohio, two in 10 to as many as three in 10 Republican primary voters continued to resist Trump’s candidacy. More to the point, among those supporting Haley, nearly half of respondents in an ABC News exit poll said they’d back Biden in November.

Though Haley's numbers are dwarfed by what Trump has earned in the nominating races overall, she repeatedly argued, before she suspended her bid, that the anti-Trump GOP minority was worthy of attention -- and would prove problematic for Trump in November's general election.

"The majority of Americans don't just dislike one candidate. They dislike both," she said in February, referring to Trump and President Biden, who like Trump clinched his party's nomination last week. "As a country, we've never seen such dissatisfaction with the leading candidates. We've never had so many Americans mired in pessimism and division."

As she left the race on March 6, Haley said, "It is now up to Donald Trump to earn the votes of those in our party and those beyond it to support him. I hope he does that."

Trump has played that argument down while also making some outreach to Haley's supporters.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump  speaks to supporters during a rally at the Dayton International Airport, March 16, 2024, in Vandalia, Ohio.
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally at the Dayton International Airport, March 16, 2024, in Vandalia, Ohio.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

"Oh, they'll vote for me again, everybody. And I'm not sure we need too many. I'm not sure," he told reporters in New Hampshire before that state's January primary. "I think that Biden is the worst president in the history of this country. But ... they're all coming back."

Biden's campaign says they see an opening and has specifically targeted Haley's supporters.

He said in a statement when she suspended her bid for the White House that "Donald Trump made it clear he doesn't want Nikki Haley's supporters. I want to be clear: There is a place for them in my campaign."

At least half a dozen former Haley bundlers have also opted to help Biden campaign, as opposed to Trump, according to reporting from CNBC that was distributed to reporters on Tuesday by Biden's team.

Haley voters have to decide where to go

In South Carolina, where Trump won the state's primary in late February by 20 points, he lost three population-rich counties to Haley by double digits.

Candace Reese, a 67-year-old independent voter from Summerville, South Carolina, just outside of Charleston where Haley won, previously told ABC News that "as much as I think they're both too old, I can't do Donald Trump for another four years."

Jane Miller from Camden, South Carolina, who, like Reese, voted for Haley, said she found Trump scary.

"I think he's a loose cannon and he really scares me. As bad as Biden is, at least we know where he's going," Miller said in an earlier interview with ABC News.

A poll worker prepares a voting booth as he waits for voters to arrive at the Miami Beach Fire Station 4 to cast their ballot during the primary, March 19, 2024, in Miami Beach.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In the November battleground of North Carolina, Mary Coggins, who identifies as a moderate Republican and said she voted for Trump in 2020, spoke with ABC News as she attended a Haley rally in Charlotte with her young daughter in early March.

Coggins said then that she was looking for a president who can be a role model for her daughter and other children -- and she didn't see Trump fulfilling that role.

In a general election rematch between Trump and Biden, she said she would consider voting for Biden.

"We think about it a lot," Coggins said. "I mean, some days, most days we lean towards voting for Biden just because we're kind of scared of what things would look like under Trump again, which is tough because we voted for Trump before. But it's hard to say."

Eli Raykinstein, an 18-year-old freshman at Michigan State University who identifies as a moderate Republican, also supported Haley before she suspended her campaign.

Haley was the first candidate Raykinstein had ever been able to vote for.

He told ABC News that he's now an undecided voter, struggling to decide if he should support Trump or Biden in the general.

"I did support Trump in 2016 and 2020, in terms of kind of him as a candidate and, you know, the MAGA Republican brand. My parents were both immigrants from the Soviet Union. So that's kind of where my Republicanism came from," Raykinstein said. "But now I just can't see myself supporting him. He's not the candidate I see for our party or for the country going forward but I also don't think that Biden is the right person to go forward.

"So it just put me in a sticky position."

History undercuts how much this matters

With Trump and Biden now the two major presumptive presidential nominees, voters are facing a nearly eight-month general election fight -- unprecedented in recent decades.

Both candidates also face low approval and/or favorability numbers, polling consistently finds.

Because the 2024 election is expected to be tight and center on a handful of closely divided swing states -- just as in the 2016 and 2020 races -- the anti-Trump voters in the Republican primary have continued to attract attention, though they are a relatively small slice of the broader conservative electorate.

Haley, and some others, have cited the argument that Trump will be weak in the general election because the primary results show he isn't consolidating GOP voters behind him.

Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley waves to the crowd at the conclusion of a campaign rally at the Sawyer Park Icehouse bar, March 4, 2024, in Spring, Texas.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images

A similar dynamic is playing out, to a lesser degree, on the Democratic side, where a protest movement against Biden over his stance on Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza has had some relative success in the swing state of Michigan and in a few other places, like Minnesota.

On Tuesday, anti-war protesters in Arizona claimed victory after Biden won only 90% of the total votes, with 82% of the expected ballots reported.

Long shot Democratic candidate Marianne Williamson, whom the protesters had chosen as their symbolic choice, won 13,000-plus votes in Arizona -- larger than the margin of Biden's victory over Trump in 2020.

And in Ohio's primary on Tuesday, Rep. Dean Phillips, who has already left the race, got more than 67,000 votes versus Biden (who received around 456,000).

Still, the history of primaries in recent years -- both contested and uncontested -- suggest that none of this is unusual or that it conclusively shows what voters will do in a general election.

In the 2020 Democratic nomination fight, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders continued to earn a notable amount of ballots against Biden in some states after he ended his campaign. Sanders got more than 280,000 votes in Pennsylvania's primary that year, or about 18% of the total. Even so, Biden went on to win the key swing state over Trump later that year.

And in 2016, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won hundreds of thousands of votes against Trump in the Republican primary though he left the race that May. In California's primary that June, he got about 211,000 votes -- around 10% of the total.

This also isn't the first year that "uncommitted" has gained traction.

In the 2012 Democratic primary in Kentucky, when then-President Barack Obama was running for reelection and didn't face a concerted protest like Biden is now, uncommitted nonetheless got about 87,000 votes in the state.

More broadly, recent decades of results from contested primaries compared with exit polling and general election returns indicate that a party's nominee does usually go on to consolidate much of their respective bases -- as happened with Trump in 2016 and Obama in 2008.

But, observers this year say, any movement among voting blocs could affect the outcome come November.

Whether Biden and Trump will be able to woo back their skeptics -- while they each fight to win over swing voters and independents -- remains a question that will only be answered come Election Day.

ABC News' Gabriella Abdul-Hakim, Tal Axelrod, Lalee Ibssa, Soo Rin Kim, Gary Langer and Isabella Murray contributed to this report.