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What Do the 2024 ‘Super Tuesday’ Exit Polls Tell Us About Trump’s Chances in November?

Nikki Haley may be off the stage but what will her voters do next? Martin Burns analyses the answers US voters gave to CNN’s exit polls in three states

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a news conference, Wednesday 6 March 2024, in Charleston, South Carolina. Photo: Chris Carlson/Associated Press/Alamy

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The number of states across the United States holding primaries on the first Tuesday in March have earned the name “Super Tuesday” for this stop on the electoral calendar. The results on Super Tuesday have traditionally propelled a candidate towards their party’s nomination. The big Democratic winner on Super Tuesday 2020 was Joe Biden, who won decisively over his challenger Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont. Biden’s dramatic win was best summed up by CNN analyst Van Jones when he said that because of his performance on Super Tuesday, Biden went from being “a joke to a juggernaut.” 

The big Republican winner of Super Tuesday this year is former President Donald Trump who won everywhere except in the liberal state of Vermont. Trump defeated former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley by 50 percentage points or more in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. As a result of her poor showing in the Super Tuesday states, Haley ended her campaign. Furthermore, Senator Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, announced his support for Trump. McConnell had been critical of Trump in the past for his actions in the insurrection at the US Capitol in January 2021. McConnell’s swift endorsement of Trump after Super Tuesday indicates that Trump’s dominance of the Republican party is absolute.

So, now the rematch between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is on.

One of the more interesting aspects of politics on both sides of the Atlantic are exit polls. These are the questions that pollsters put to those who have just voted about what factors went into their decision-making process and what issues are important to them. CNN conducted Super Tuesday exit polling in the states of California, North Carolina, and Virginia. The mix of states gives us a balanced view as California is a solidly Democratic state, North Carolina is a swing state and Virginia leans towards the Democrats. Given the fact that Democrats dominate California, it makes sense to focus this analysis on North Carolina and Virginia as they are both competitive states.

In North Carolina, fully 63% of GOP primary voters feel that Trump would be fit for the presidency even if he is convicted of a crime. 55% of GOP voters in Democratic-leaning Virginia believe the same.

When asked if they were part of the MAGA (“Make America Great Again”) movement, the code word for Trumpism, 57% of voters in Virginia say they are not part of the MAGA movement as do 52% of those in North Carolina.

Some pollsters argue that asking voters about their allegiance to the MAGA movement is a way of measuring their likelihood of voting for Trump. I disagree here. While there are voters who understand the MAGA acronym, most voters do not. A more predictive question is to ask if Biden was legitimately elected in 2020. This question goes to the heart of Trump’s campaign far more than asking about the MAGA acronym. In North Carolina, fully 63% of GOP voters feel that Biden did not win legitimately in 2020 while 50% of Virginia GOP voters hold this view.

Social issues in America also play a role here. Since the US Supreme Court ruled in the Dobbs case in June of 2022 overturning Roe vs. Wade, reproductive rights have been once again thrust into the political debate. Abortion opponents in recent months have been pushing for a national ban on abortions. In Virginia, 54% of GOP voters oppose such a ban while in North Carolina 52% of GOP voters support a national ban on abortions.

Were there any bright spots for Haley on Super Tuesday? She did win the state of Vermont and did better than average with college educated GOP voters (39% in North Carolina and 50% in Virginia) and with GOP voters who describe themselves as moderates (57% in North Carolina and 62% in Virginia). These achievements are meaningless. The bottom line is that Donald Trump trounced Nikki Haley and his control of the Republican party is unchallenged.

Some Washington observers have looked at the Super Tuesday results and concluded that they represent major problems for Donald Trump. Their logic is that if Trump loses 20% of the GOP vote in a swing state such as North Carolina, then it is an enormous potential win for the Biden team. This point of view assumes that the 20% of the electorate who voted for Haley will cross the aisle to vote for Biden. The exit polling data does to some extent support this argument, as 58% of Haley voters in North Carolina say they would not vote Republican regardless of who the nominee is.

President Biden has already begun to reach out to Haley voters. Right now, they may be susceptible to persuasion efforts. The abortion issue is likely to be his best way to reach these voters. Unfortunately, for the Biden team, a long and polarizing general election lies ahead. Come November, I believe few Haley voters will be willing to vote Democratic. That is the bad news for the Democrats. The good news for the Democrats is that the election is likely to be so close that it will not take many disaffected Haley voters to tip the scales in Biden’s favour.

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