The voters who turned out for New Hampshire’s GOP presidential primary on Tuesday were less staunchly conservative and less closely tied to the Republican Party than the electorate in last week’s Iowa caucuses, according to the early results of CNN’s exit poll. But even in a state less naturally inclined to serve as a stronghold for former President Donald Trump, GOP primary voters proved largely willing to embrace him over his remaining rival, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
About two-thirds of New Hampshire GOP primary voters described themselves as conservative, according to the early results of the exit poll, with about one-quarter calling themselves very conservative. Most said they did not consider themselves a part of the MAGA movement, referring to the “Make America Great Again” slogan popularized by Trump in 2016. Those numbers form a substantially different backdrop than in Iowa’s caucuses, where nearly 9 in 10 described themselves as conservative, and nearly half identified themselves as MAGA.
But roughly 6 in 10 New Hampshire GOP primary voters said they’d be satisfied to see Trump as the Republican Party’s eventual nominee, and most said they’d consider him fit to return to the presidency even if convicted of a crime.
Exit polls are a valuable tool to help understand primary voters’ demographic profile and political views. Like all surveys, however, exit polls are estimates, not precise measurements of the electorate. That’s particularly true for the preliminary set of exit poll numbers, which haven’t yet been weighted to match the final results of the primary. But the results provide a glimpse of the types of voters turning out to participate.
Voters who were registered as Republicans broke heavily for Trump, the exit poll finds, with roughly three-quarters favoring him. Voters registered as undeclared – the state’s term for independent voters – favored Haley by a wide, if less overwhelming, margin, with about two-thirds backing her.
And echoing a frequently seen split in the Republican Party, there was a sharp educational divide among the state’s GOP primary voters. About two-thirds of voters without college degrees backed Trump, while roughly 6 in 10 college graduates supported Haley.
Roughly 7 in 10 of the New Hampshire voters backing Trump said they were registered as Republicans. And about 8 in 10 of Trump’s voters denied the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s election win in 2020, highlighting the election denialism that remains widespread among his supporters. There is no evidence of widespread election fraud in 2020. Haley’s backers present a near mirror image: about 7 in 10 said they were registered as undeclared prior to Tuesday, and the vast majority acknowledged the results of the 2020 election.
Most Trump voters in New Hampshire made up their minds early and cast their votes with little hesitation: about three-quarters say they decided on Trump more than a month ago. A similar share said that they cast their vote for the candidate they “strongly favored,” with only a few saying they liked Trump with reservations, or that their vote was driven largely by dislike of his rivals. By contrast, Haley voters decided later – most in the last month – and often with some reluctance: roughly 4 in 10 Haley voters in New Hampshire attributed their support of her mostly to distaste for her opponents, with about 3 in 10 saying they liked her with reservations, and only about a third that they strongly favored Haley.
Asked which of four personal qualities mattered most to them in a candidate, roughly 3 in 10 voters said they wanted to see a candidate who would fight for them and a similar share that they wanted someone who shared their values, with fewer looking for a candidate who had the right temperament or could defeat Biden.
Trump’s voters said they most prized a willingness to fight for them; by contrast, Haley’s voters were more likely to cite temperament as key than to say the same of any other characteristic.
The primary electorate as a whole was a largely unhappy one – about 8 in 10 expressed dissatisfaction with the state of the country. But Trump voters were more than three times likelier than Haley voters to describe themselves as angry about the way things are going in the US. And although only a small share of the electorate felt that their family was falling behind substantially, that group broke heavily for Trump.
New Hampshire’s Republican primary voters largely cited the economy or immigration as their top issue in the election, with fewer citing abortion or foreign policy as their top concern. But Trump and Haley voters diverged widely in their attitudes across the spectrum of issues. Roughly 8 in 10 Trump voters said that most undocumented immigrants in the US should be deported from the country, while about two-thirds of Haley voters said that undocumented immigrants should be given the chance to apply for legal status. About half of Trump voters said the US should take a less active role in world affairs than it currently does, with only 3 in 10 Haley voters saying the same.
While supporters of both candidates in the state largely said they’d oppose a federal law banning most or all abortions – another difference from Iowa, where a majority of caucusgoers supported such a ban – Haley’s backers in New Hampshire opposed the idea by a much broader margin.
The exit poll for New Hampshire’s Republican presidential primary was conducted by Edison Research on behalf of the National Election Pool. It includes 2,029 interviews with Republican primary voters across 40 different polling places. Results for the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points; it is larger for subgroups.
This story and headline have been updated with additional information.
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