Many Haley Supporters Are Not Expected To Endorse Trump, But Their Support For Him Was Already Unlikely

The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” has been a long-standing favorite campaign theme song for former President Donald Trump. However, now that he has secured the Republican presidential nomination, it may be time for his campaign to consider a different late ’60s tune: The Beatles’ “Come Together.”

Supporters of former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley have been the subject of much debate regarding their support for Trump in the upcoming election. Initially, there are indications that should raise concerns for Trump. For example, exit polls conducted on Super Tuesday in California, North Carolina, and Virginia revealed that a significant majority (between 80 percent and 95 percent) of Haley’s primary voters in those states would be “dissatisfied” if Trump were to secure the nomination. Furthermore, an early March survey conducted by Emerson College found that 63 percent of Haley’s supporters preferred President Joe Biden over Trump in a general election matchup, with only 27 percent favoring Trump.

The possibility of Republican support rallying behind Trump might not solely depend on whether he actively tries to win over the voters who supported Haley. Historical election results suggest that a significant number of Haley’s supporters are likely to eventually align themselves with Trump. This is particularly true for self-identified Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, as they tend to “come home” and support their party’s nominee. While it’s possible that some of Haley’s more moderate independent supporters may not ultimately back Trump, it’s important to note that many of them were never inclined to vote for him in the first place. This trend has been observed in previous nomination races as well.

Many Haley voters were unlikely to ever vote for Trump

It is important to exercise caution when interpreting Haley’s performance as a reflection of potential divisions within the GOP, despite the discussions about her voters and the upcoming general election. In the current Republican primary, Trump has garnered an impressive 72 percent of the vote, while Haley trails behind with only 24 percent. This means that Haley’s supporters represent a minority of the GOP primary electorate. Notably, only approximately half of her supporters identify as Republicans, while the remainder identify as independents or even Democrats, as indicated by exit poll data. Furthermore, when examining their party affiliation, ideological beliefs, and attitudes towards Biden, it becomes evident that a significant portion of Haley’s supporters were more inclined to vote for Biden rather than Trump in a general election. In contrast, Trump’s primary voters better align with the overall composition of the GOP in terms of party identification and conservative tendencies.

Party identification is a significant indicator as it reveals the likelihood of voters supporting their affiliated party in the general election. Examining data from six states – California, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia – we find that just under half of Haley’s supporters identified as Republicans, while 73 percent of Trump’s supporters identified as Republicans. On the other hand, 41 percent of Haley’s supporters and 27 percent of Trump’s supporters identified as independent or affiliated with another party. Interestingly, around 11 percent of Haley’s primary voters in these states, as opposed to very few of Trump’s voters, identified as Democrats, a group that is more likely to support Biden in the upcoming November election.

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Based on the available data, we don’t have a specific breakdown of which party the independent voters leaned toward, as the exit polls did not ask this question. However, we can make some inferences about the difference between the independent voters who supported Trump and those who supported Haley based on their ideological views. In the six states analyzed, a significant majority of Trump independents, about 71 percent, identified as conservative, suggesting that they were more likely to lean towards the Republican Party. On the other hand, around 67 percent of the independents who voted for Haley identified as moderate or liberal, although there were only a few who identified as liberal. It is important to note that the majority of independents tend to lean towards one party or another. Therefore, it is highly likely that among the group of Haley independents who identified as moderate rather than conservative, there were a fair number of Democratic-leaning voters.

The approval rating of Biden among voters who supported Haley and Trump offers more proof that Haley had considerable support from Democratic-leaning voters who took part in the Republican primary. According to exit polls on Super Tuesday in California, North Carolina, and Virginia, 40 percent of Haley supporters expressed approval of Biden’s performance as president, in contrast to only 1 percent of Trump voters. Furthermore, nearly half of the independent Haley supporters in those states approved of Biden.

It is quite remarkable that Haley voters have such a high approval rating, especially when considering that only about 10 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of independents approve of Biden’s job performance, according to a basic polling average. In comparison, over 75 percent of Democrats approve of Biden. This indicates that a significant number of independent or Democratic voters who supported Biden in the primary also voted for Haley. It is worth noting that this does not necessarily indicate a shift away from supporting Trump for these voters. Recent surveys conducted by Emerson College and Siena College/New York Times show that a majority or plurality of Haley supporters actually voted for Biden in the 2020 election.

Biden’s approval ratings provide insights into the possibility of how many Republicans who support Haley might switch sides and vote for Biden in the upcoming election. According to exit polls in the three Super Tuesday states, only 25% of these Republicans approved of the current president’s performance. Although this percentage is higher than the national average among Republicans, it still indicates that most of them, despite their dislike for Trump, will likely vote for him due to their party affiliation and their unfavorable opinion of Biden.

What past primaries say about breaking with the party

Analyzing the voting patterns of Trump and Haley primary voters, we can leverage data from previous primaries to gain insights into their inclination to support the party’s nominee or switch to the opposition in the November elections. In 2016, both parties experienced long and contentious primaries, which resulted in weakened support for the eventual nominees. This information is based on the 2016 Cooperative Election Study, a comprehensive survey conducted by Harvard University and YouGov, comprising over 50,000 participants who validated their votes in both the primary and general elections. The chart below illustrates how a significant portion of primary voters who initially supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, as well as Marco Rubio and John Kasich in the GOP contest, eventually voted for the nominee from the opposing party.

While it’s important to approach these estimates with a degree of caution, as other surveys may provide slightly different results, data from the CES suggests that approximately 1 in 10 Sanders supporters ended up voting for Trump. Similarly, a comparable portion of Rubio voters ended up backing Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. What’s even more noteworthy is that around one-third of Kasich supporters ended up supporting Clinton in the November election. It’s worth noting that Sanders had a larger sample size, having received a significant number of primary votes throughout a contest that extended until June 2016, whereas Rubio and Kasich dropped out in mid-March and early May of that same year, respectively.

According to the CES data, it appears that there may have been a significant number of Sanders-Trump voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In fact, these voters could potentially have had enough influence to swing the election in these states. However, it’s important to note that the calculations become more complex when taking into account Kasich-Clinton and Rubio-Clinton voters, especially if there are insufficient sample sizes to estimate them at the state level.

Many of the voters who supported Haley in the primary were unlikely to vote for the eventual nominee of their party. This trend was also observed among Sanders, Rubio, and Kasich voters. It is interesting to note the party identification of primary voters who supported these candidates compared to who they ended up supporting in the general election. A significant portion of primary voters who supported the opposite party in the general election identified with or leaned toward that party. On the other hand, those who remained loyal to the party they voted for in the primary overwhelmingly identified with or leaned toward that party.

The numbers indicate that the majority of Haley primary voters, who identify as or lean Republican, are likely to support Trump in the general election. Interestingly, more than 90% of Sanders primary voters who eventually backed Clinton were affiliated with or leaned towards the Democratic Party, while less than half of the Sanders supporters who voted for Trump had the same affiliation. Similarly, a significant proportion of Rubio and Kasich primary voters who ended up voting for Trump in November were Republicans or GOP leaners. On the other hand, only about two-thirds of Rubio-Clinton voters and two-fifths of Kasich-Clinton voters identified with or leaned towards the GOP. It’s important to note that these defectors, who deviated from their preferred party’s nominee, represented a small minority of the primary voters within their respective parties.

In addition to those voters, each of these three candidates, similar to Haley, garnered significant support from independent voters and those who preferred the opposing party. These voters were less likely to support the eventual nominee of their primary party anyway. While it’s not an exact comparison, Kasich’s 2016 numbers appear to align with the findings from the 2024 exit polls regarding Haley’s supporters. Surprisingly, a remarkable 40 percent of Kasich-Clinton voters identified as or leaned Democratic, explaining why approximately one-third of all Kasich voters ended up backing Clinton in the November 2016 election. Evidently, there was a significant portion of Democratic-leaning voters who actively participated in the Republican nomination race that year and opted for Kasich, as he remained in the GOP contest for a month and a half longer than Rubio.

In analyzing the voting behavior of primary voters in 2016, it becomes clear that many moderate voters in the GOP primary may lean towards the Democratic party. Similar to those who supported Haley in this year’s election, half of Kasich voters identified themselves as moderate and interestingly enough, this group predominantly voted for Clinton at 51 percent, compared to 36 percent who voted for the Republican candidate. Additionally, approximately one-third of Rubio’s supporters considered themselves moderate, and their preference for Trump was only at 55 percent, while 30 percent voted for him. (It is worth noting that the remaining moderate voters largely supported Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.)

In 2016, Trump shocked the system by accelerating political trends. He attracted more white voters without a college degree to the GOP and pushed many college graduates towards the Democrats. According to a University of Virginia Center for Politics analysis, around 6.7 million Trump voters had previously supported Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012, while approximately 2.7 million Clinton voters had previously backed GOP nominee Mitt Romney. This suggests that some voters’ party identification may have been in flux during that year. It is clear, however, that many voters who were unlikely to support Clinton in the general election ended up voting for Sanders in the primary. Similarly, many voters who were unlikely to support Trump in November voted for candidates like Rubio and Kasich. Interestingly, the combined vote share for Rubio and Kasich in the 2016 primary strongly correlated with Haley’s vote share (with a correlation of 0.89) in the 2024 GOP contest.

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Biden, on the other hand, has proven his ability to gather support within his party. While we don’t have extensive and verified data on the 2020 Democratic primary, it appears that a majority of voters who initially backed Biden’s opponents ended up supporting him in the general election. A June 2020 poll conducted by Siena College and The New York Times revealed that 96 percent of former Elizabeth Warren supporters, 92 percent of Pete Buttigieg supporters, and 87 percent of Bernie Sanders supporters stated their intention to vote for Biden.

It is hard to determine if this indicates greater unity among 2020 Democrats compared to 2024 Republicans. However, considering the voting patterns of party-affiliated or leaning voters, it is likely that by June 2024, a majority of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents will support Trump.

Biden and many Democratic-leaning voters may also share a similar sentiment. Despite not facing any significant competition for his party’s nomination, with him winning approximately 86 percent of the primary vote this cycle, there has been a notable percentage of voters, ranging from 10 to 20 percent, who have opted for “uncommitted” ballot options in states like Michigan, Minnesota, and North Carolina in recent weeks. This suggests a certain level of dissatisfaction with Biden.

However, we should exercise caution when interpreting the vote returns from the Democratic primary as an indication of the party’s unity or division. This is because the primary has seen low turnout and has not been highly competitive. To gain a more accurate understanding, it is important to look at the polls. These show that Biden currently has an approval rating of 38 percent and is slightly behind Trump in general election polls.

Footnotes

The approval ratings of Biden were determined by calculating the averages for each party affiliation using a line of best fit in the form of a loess curve for each crosstab.

Reference Article

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