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South Carolina voter exit polls show how Trump won state's 2024 Republican primary

Analyzing South Carolina GOP primary results
What the South Carolina results say about Trump's strength 09:09

Note: Exit poll percentages may have updated since this post was published.

The home-state advantage wasn't there for Nikki Haley Saturday in the 2024 South Carolina Republican primary.

Former President Donald Trump was projected to win the South Carolina Republican primary, besting Haley among most key demographic groups. He won majorities of both men and women and among all age groups.

Trump ran especially well among parts of the Republican base that were predominant in the GOP electorate, including conservatives and White evangelicals. More than four in 10 South Carolina GOP primary voters identified themselves as part of the MAGA movement and nearly nine in 10 of them backed Trump. 

The former president also beat Haley among veterans.


Haley did well with independents and moderates, but there weren't a lot of them. 

South Carolina has an "open primary," meaning any registered voter could participate in the state's Republican presidential primary as long as they did not vote in the state's Democratic primary. Even so, just over a quarter of voters self-identified as independents and just about 5% as Democrats — a far smaller share compared to the GOP primary electorate in New Hampshire.

So, while Haley did well among independent voters, there weren't enough of them to make her competitive with Trump.  


Haley also performed relatively better among college graduates and moderates, polling even with Trump among the first group and handily beating him among the latter. Haley led among voters who oppose a national abortion ban, something that most GOP primary voters favor, but most likely general election voters oppose it. 

The former South Carolina governor also won among those voting in a Republican primary for the first time and among those who made up their minds in the final weeks of the campaign. Both of these groups comprised relatively small shares of the GOP electorate in South Carolina. 

Haley campaigned on her foreign policy credentials, and she led Trump among voters who picked foreign policy as their top issue, but few voters chose it relative to issues like immigration and the economy, and Trump won the voters who prioritized those issues.


More South Carolina voters think Trump is electable in November

Haley has argued that she is the more electable candidate in a general election, and CBS News national polling shows she fares better than Trump against President Biden. But Republican primary voters in South Carolina feel Trump is their best shot: more say Trump is very likely to defeat Mr. Biden than say Haley is. 


Candidate qualities and characteristics

Haley has questioned Trump's mental fitness for office, but Trump's voters overwhelmingly refute this, and most charge that it's Haley who lacks the physical and mental health needed to serve effectively as president. As a result, Trump beats Haley on this measure among voters overall. 


Haley's charges that Trump is a "chaos candidate" didn't seem to resonate with South Carolina voters either.  Though she led Trump by a wide margin among those who wanted a candidate with the right temperament, few voters picked that as their top quality. 

Instead, just as they did in Iowa and New Hampshire, voters were looking for a candidate who fights for people like them and shares their values, and Trump defeated Haley handily among voters who picked these qualities.


Haley had some late momentum, but it wasn't enough

Momentum shifted toward Haley in the weeks leading up to primary day. Among the fewer than one in five who made their decision this month, most backed Haley. But most of the electorate had made up their minds before February, and they backed Trump. 


Trump's legal woes don't matter to most

Still, Trump's control of the narrative and political agenda is clear in how the South Carolina GOP electorate views both the state of the country and Donald Trump as a candidate. Voters express pessimism, if not downright anger, at the way things are going in the country — citing immigration as their top concern — and nearly half rate the economy as poor. More than six in 10 reject the idea that Mr. Biden legitimately won the 2020 election, and most think Trump would be fit to serve in the White House even if he were to be convicted of one of the several indictments against him.


The exit poll for South Carolina's Republican presidential primary was conducted by Edison Research on behalf of the National Election Pool. It includes interviews with more than 2,100 Republican primary voters across 40 different polling places in South Carolina on the primary election day. 

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