A very big primary day for Donald Trump
Donald Trump took a big step closer to the Republican nomination with convincing primary victories in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. For much of this primary season one argument for Trump's success was that he was winning primaries without gaining a majority of the votes only because his multiple opponents were dividing all the anti-Trump voters. Along with his solid victory in New York last week, his five wins Tuesday show that he can command a majority of GOP primary voters, especially in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states.
Results from the CBS News exit polls in Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania show Trump may be broadening his support in the Republican primaries. He still draws stronger support from less well-educated voters, men, and older voters, but he is now showing strength among a more diverse range of Republican voters. Trump got the support of 61 percent, 57 percent, and 60 percent of men in Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Among women in those states he got 56 percent, 47 percent, and 54 percent of the vote. He won between 60 and 70 percent of voters with less than a college education in those three states but also almost half of voters with college degrees.
Trump's support also came from across the ideological spectrum. In all three states he did best among voters who think of themselves as somewhat conservative. His vote shares were only somewhat lower among very conservative and moderate Republican voters and he commanded a majority or very close to a majority of the votes in these ideological groups as well. Voters who describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians gave Trump between 48 percent and 64 percent of their votes, easily outpacing the other two candidates.
As has been true throughout the Republican primaries, resentment toward political and economic elites has helped to fuel Trump's support. The exit polls in all three states asked voters whether Wall Street does more to help or hurt the U.S. economy. Between 4 in 10 and half of Republican voters said that Wall Street does more to hurt the economy. Among those voters between 58 and 67 percent voted for Trump.
About 4 in 10 Republican primary voters said they were angry about the way the federal government is working and Trump won two-thirds of their votes. 63 percent of the Republican primary voters in Pennsylvania want the next president to be from outside of the political establishment and 83 percent of them voted for Trump.
Concerns about illegal immigration and the threat of Islamic terrorism also continues to drive support for Trump. In the Pennsylvania exit poll 69 percent Republican primary voters supported a temporary ban on Muslims who are not U.S. citizens entering the country and Trump got two-thirds of their support. Forty-six percent of the primary voters want illegal immigrants working in U.S. to be deported and Trump won 68 percent of their votes.
Ted Cruz's very bad day
This was as bad a primary day as Ted Cruz could possibly have imagined. Not only wasn't he competitive in any of the five states, he may well finish third in four of them. And his poor showing Tuesday makes it virtually impossible now for him to go to the Republican convention with a majority of the delegates no matter what happens in the remaining primaries. His only argument for staying in the race at this point is that he could prevail in a contested convention if Trump is unable to win a majority on the first ballot. But with such a poor showing in five contests today it will be harder to make an argument that he has enough support among Republican voters to deserve the nomination under any circumstances.
Cruz's bases of support should come from very conservative and evangelical Christian Republicans. About 45 percent of voters in Maryland and Pennsylvania said they were evangelical Christians. Cruz only got the support of about 30 percent of those voters in the two states. Cruz's best showing among the most conservative Republicans came in Pennsylvania where he won 41 percent of their votes. That still wasn't good enough to top Trump who won 48 percent of their votes. And very conservative voters were just 30 percent of the Republican primary electorate in Pennsylvania. There just aren't enough core voters for Cruz to be competitive -- at least in these five states and New York last week. And he shows no evidence of significantly broadening his support beyond these core groups.
There also seems to be fairly widespread antipathy toward Cruz in these three states. The exit polls asked voters whether they would definitely vote for Ted Cruz, probably vote for him, or not vote for him if he were the Republican nominee in November. Between 31 percent and 39 percent of the Republican primary voters said that they would not vote for Cruz even if he were to gain the Republican nomination. This of course could change if Cruz were to prevail but it does indicate that many Republicans do not at this point consider him an acceptable presidential candidate.
Not much good news for John Kasich
John Kasich could interpret his second place showings as promising sign. There really isn't much good news for him in the exit polls however. His major support in the three states came from the same groups: The best educated, the most affluent, and the ideological moderate voters. In none of these states did he top Trump among any of these groups. And there are not enough Republican voters like this to make Kasich competitive in these primaries.
The exit polls asked people whether their votes today were mainly for their candidate or against his opponents. Between 36 percent and 46 percent of the Kasich voters in the three states said they were mainly voting against his opponents. In Pennsylvania, only 31 percent of the people who voted for Kasich said they felt excited thinking about what he might do if he were elected president. None of this provides evidence of a strong basis of support for Kasich among Republican primary voters. For many he simply is the non-Trump, non-Cruz candidate left in the race.
Hillary Clinton moves closer to the nomination
While Hillary Clinton's wins didn't appear to be as impressive as Trump's, they were every bit as important in her fight for the Democratic nomination. A win in Rhode Island and a close loss in Connecticut cannot even count as moral victories for Bernie Sanders at this point in the primary race. Not only did Clinton's four victories increase her lead over Sanders, every primary at this point that Sanders doesn't win -- by a significant margin -- eliminates another opportunity for him to close the delegate gap with Clinton. And, as the number of contests dwindle, there almost certainly aren't enough opportunities for him to claim a plausible path to winning a majority of the delegates at the Democratic convention.
Most Democratic voters appear to understand this logic. In the Pennsylvania exit poll voters were asked who they thought would be the Democratic nominee. Seventy-six percent said Clinton, while only 22 percent thought it would be Sanders. Almost half of Sanders' voters thought Clinton would ultimately prevail. Clinton is also seen by large majorities of Democratic primary voters as the stronger candidate against Donald Trump in November and even a quarter to a third of Sanders' voters think she will make the better general election candidate.
Sanders continues to do extremely well with young voters, particularly those under 30. His margins today with voters under 45 was somewhat below what he has done in earlier primaries. On the other hand, Clinton remains strong among women, voters over 45, and minorities. Her strong support among older voters is critical as those over 45 made up 60 to 65 percent of the Democratic primary electorates in Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
There is also some indication from the three exit polls that Sanders' strong support among some of the most liberal Democratic voters may be fading a bit. For example, Clinton topped Sanders in all three states among those who consider themselves very liberal. In Pennsylvania, 64 percent of voter said that Wall Street does more to hurt the economy than to help it. Sanders beat Clinton among this group of voters but only by a 53 percent to 46 percent margin. This is really surprising given the centrality of this issue to Sanders' campaign and the attacks he's launched against Clinton for her ties to the financial industry.
The Pennsylvania exit poll also asked whether foreign trade takes away U.S. jobs or creates more jobs. Among the voters who said it most takes away jobs, Clinton edged Sanders 50 percent to 48 percent. Sanders has been relentless in his criticism of free trade agreements and it must be really disappointing for him to lose to Clinton among voters who appear to agree with his position on this issue.
Voters do see Sanders as honest, more so than Clinton. In Pennsylvania, 76 percent of Democratic voters said Sanders is honest compared to 58 percent for Clinton. The bad news for Sanders is that only half of Pennsylvania Democrats said that his policies were realistic; but three-quarters said Clinton's policies were. While Democratic voters like Sanders, they're concerned he won't be able to accomplish his goals as president and that he won't be as strong a candidate as Clinton in November.
While Clinton could likely still lose some of the remaining primaries, it will now be extremely difficult to not recognize that she is the likely Democratic presidential nominee. And, at this point, Democratic voters seem to be more energized and unified than are Republicans as the primary season heads into the final contests.
Stanley Feldman is professor of political science at Stony Brook University.