Immigration Exit Polling

HOW DONALD TRUMP WON THE FIRST TWO GOP PRIMARIES SO CONVINCINGLY

Electoral science is all about digging deep – uncovering elusive wisdom from within reams of seemingly divergent data.  In fact those who succeed in this business do so precisely because they know how to dig – and more importantly, where to dig.

Sometimes, though, we don’t have to get our hands dirty to find the answer.

Sometimes the answer is sitting right there on the surface – staring us in the face.

Take the big victories registered by Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump in New Hampshire and South Carolina – which held the first two GOP primary elections of the 2016 cycle this month.  Granite State voters have traditionally been viewed as more centrist – i.e. more friendly to GOP candidates residing on the left end of the party’s ideological spectrum. Meanwhile voters in the Palmetto State are viewed as far more conservative – especially on social issues – and far more eager to support candidates who appeal to their evangelical beliefs.

Neither of those electoral universes would seem to be especially receptive to a candidate like Trump – yet he won convincing victories in both states.

In New Hampshire, Trump won 35.3 percent of the vote – easily outdistancing centrist Oho governor John Kasich.  In South Carolina, Trump captured 32.5 percent of the vote – giving him a ten-point edge over both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, a pair of candidates who made overt appeals to socially conservative voters (and attacked Trump for his social liberalism).

What gives?  Immigration, that’s what.

According to exit polling in New Hampshire, 65 percent of GOP primary voters supported Trump’s proposal to temporarily suspend Muslim immigration into the United States.  In South Carolina, exit polling showed 73 percent supported Trump’s plan.  Those are compelling majorities.

As a result, centrist voters in New Hampshire who might have otherwise been concerned about Trump’s right-wing rhetoric – or evangelicals in South Carolina who might have otherwise been concerned about his social liberalism – overcame their reticence in droves.

Obviously the deeper we dive into data from both states, the more we will learn about the intersection of ideologies and candidate choices – and the better we will be able to track individual issues with electoral outcomes.  We’ll also be able to pick up nuances and test alternate theories – and explore what this cross-sectional GOP support for Trump could mean in a hypothetical general election matchup.  But so far, everything in New Hampshire and South Carolina points to a pretty predictable cause and effect.

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