What voters are saying: Exit poll entrails

logoby Karlyn Bowman & Heather Sims, AEI

votersThis year, the exit poll consortium of the five news networks and the Associated Press is back at work surveying voters at their polling places. The exit poll “ballots” are straightforward. Voters are asked a handful of questions about their demographic characteristics and their attitudes.

We still have a handful of large states’ primaries to go this campaign season. But studying closely the exit polls we have so far, as the April issue of AEI’s Political Report does, provides some clues about the electorate’s demographic contours and its mood. Here are some of the findings.

Women have made up a much larger share of the vote than men in Democratic contests thus far. Women have been at least 54 percent of voters in every Democratic contest, while men have made up no more than 46 percent. This is a continuation of a familiar pattern: Democratic candidates generally attract more women than men. The gender split in GOP contests this campaign cycle has been less lopsided, though GOP voters are more likely to be male than female. Hillary Clinton will need women to turn out in substantial numbers in November to overcome her significant weakness among men.

We’ve heard a great deal about Bernie Sanders’ strength with young voters, and the exit polls confirm it. Sanders has won the youngest cohort (generally speaking, 18- to 29-year-olds) in 18 of 20 states for which we have exit poll data. He won his home state of Vermont with 95 percent of their vote, followed by Illinois, where he picked up 86 percent. The lowest support he received from this age group while still carrying it was 54 percent in Georgia and South Carolina. In each of these 20 contests, the youngest age group made up no more than 20 percent of voters. To win the election in November, Democrats need a good turnout among young people. Will they stay home if Bernie isn’t the nominee? We can’t answer that question yet.

One of the most stunning findings comes from a question asked by the consortium in 13 GOP contests thus far. Half or more of all voters in these contests said they felt betrayed by politicians from the Republican Party. Fifty-five percent or more gave that response in Tennessee, Michigan, Florida, Missouri, and North Carolina. If GOP leaders in Washington didn’t know they have a problem, these exit poll results are a loud wake-up call.

Dovetailing this sense of betrayal is a feeling of anger, which we’ve heard a lot about this year. The exit polls hint at how deep voters’ anger really is. In the states where exit pollsters asked voters to describe their feelings about how the federal government is working, more than a third of voters in GOP contests said they were angry. In 12 states, 40 percent or more gave that response, topping out at 48 percent in Texas. These numbers are especially striking because “angry” is one of four different responses from which voters could choose.

We’ve also heard a lot about deporting illegal immigrants this campaign cycle, but exit polls from GOP contests reveal a perhaps surprising opinions on the topic given the rhetoric. In only one GOP contest (Mississippi) did a majority of voters (51 percent) say illegal immigrants should be deported to the country they came from. In some states, the division between deporting them and offering them a chance to apply for legal status was close, but voters appeared to have softer hearts about this than some the candidates’ rhetoric would suggest. Large majorities of voters in all the GOP contests for which we have data favored a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US.

Among Democratic voters, race relations struck a chord. More than four in ten Democratic voters in each state where the question was asked said they had gotten worse in the last few years. In North Carolina and Missouri, around six in ten gave that response.

Voters were asked about trade in five GOP and Democratic contests. In each GOP contest, a majority said trade with other countries takes away US jobs. Donald Trump won among these voters in each state. Only around a third in each state said trade creates jobs. Democrats looked like Republicans in Ohio and Michigan: only around three in ten in these two states said trade creates jobs. Among these voters, Clinton won in Ohio, while Sanders won their support in Michigan. In the other Democratic contests where exit polls asked about trade, voters were closely divided.

Much can change between now and November, and primary election results do not foretell general election success or failure. But these exit poll results give us insights into America’s voters that are essential for candidates and parties to keep in mind if they want to win in November.

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