February 21, 2024


Voters in the New Hampshire GOP primary electorate were sharply divided along now-familiar partisan and educational fault lines, according to the initial results of CNN’s exit poll for the presidential primary.

Voters who were registered as Republicans broke heavily for former President Donald Trump, the exit poll finds, with roughly three-quarters favoring him. Voters registered as undeclared – the state’s term for independent voters – favored former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley by a wide, if less overwhelming, margin, with about two-thirds backing her.

Trump will win the primary, CNN projects.

Tuesday’s electorate was relatively closely divided between voters registered as Republican and those registered as undeclared, according to the preliminary exit poll results. 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.

A majority of primary voters said they’d be satisfied to see Trump win the Republican nomination this year, with roughly half saying they’d consider him fit for the presidency if he’s 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.

Nearly two-thirds of primary voters describe themselves as conservative, according to the initial results, with about one-quarter calling themselves very conservative, while about 3 in 10 describe themselves as moderates.

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. And roughly half said they believed that President Joe Biden’s victory over Trump four years ago was legitimate. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Those numbers form a substantially different backdrop than in Iowa’s caucuses, where nearly 9 in 10 described themselves as conservative – a designation that, in this election cycle, has largely correlated with support for the former president. Nearly half of Iowa caucus participants identified themselves as MAGA, and roughly two-thirds denied the legitimacy of Biden’s 2020 victory.

In New Hampshire, Trump voters and those backing former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley differed sharply in their attitudes toward their chosen candidate. The vast majority of voters who turned out to support Trump – roughly 8 in 10 — 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, 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.

Both Trump and Haley voters, however, would be unhappy to see the Republican Party nominate their chosen candidate’s rival. About 8 in 10 of Trump voters said they’d be dissatisfied if Haley won the nomination, while roughly 9 in 10 Haley voters said they’d be dissatisfied if Trump won a third nomination.

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 Biden’s election win in 2020, highlighting the election denialism that remains widespread among his supporters. 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.

Issues driving voters

As in Iowa, New Hampshire’s Republican primary voters split closely between immigration and the economy as their top issues, with fewer citing abortion or foreign policy as their top concern.

Most, about 7 in 10, describe the state of the economy as not so good or poor. More than half say that they’d like to see most undocumented immigrants in the US deported to the countries they came from. In a contrast with Iowa, a majority of voters in New Hampshire say they’d oppose a federal ban on most or all abortions.

Voters are divided on the role of the US abroad, with roughly 4 in 10 saying they’d like the country to take a less active role, about 3 in 10 a more active role, and the rest saying it should remain roughly the same.

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 has been updated with additional information.