South Carolina GOP primary election voter exit polls show how Trump beat Haley

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Former President Donald Trump continued his winning streak in the GOP presidential primary Saturday, notching a victory in South Carolina thanks again to his dominance among core Republican voters. 

Trump followed a similar path to victory to the ones he took in Iowa and New Hampshire earlier this year, earning majorities from nearly every key group in the South Carolina’s GOP primary electorate, according to NBC News exit poll results. Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, meanwhile, struggled to garner support beyond the moderates and independents in her home state. 

Here are four key sets of numbers that help explain Trump’s decisive win over Haley in South Carolina: 

1. Trump’s dominance among the GOP base

Self-described Republicans made up a sizable majority of the South Carolina primary electorate on Saturday (68%), and Trump once again carried these voters by an overwhelming margin, winning 72% to Haley’s 28%. 

Trump also garnered majority support across traditional Republican voting blocs: 85% of very conservative voters, 74% of white evangelicals, 67% of military veterans and 88% of the almost half of Republican primary voters who say they are part of the MAGA movement.

2. Haley’s smaller coalition

Haley did have some success among the more moderate voters and non-Republican who showed up to vote in the South Carolina GOP primary, but they made up much smaller shares of the electorate. 

The former South Carolina governor overwhelmingly won voters who identify as moderate or liberal, winning 72% to Trump’s 27%, but they only made up one-fifth of the primary vote. Haley also carried independents, who accounted for just 21% of the electorate, though she won them by 19 points, a smaller margin than Trump won with Republicans.

Haley managed to win 81% of voters who believe President Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election, but they only made up a third of the electorate.  

Haley only narrowly won a group where she might have had more of an opening: college graduates. She won 51% of them, besting Trump by just 3 points. 

Haley’s two main messages in the closing days of the race — electability and respect for the military — also did not appear to resonate. Just 16% of primary voters believe Trump is not likely to defeat Biden in November. Trump also overwhelmingly won the 17% of voters who have served in the military, even as Haley argued that Trump has disrespected servicemembers, including her husband. 

3. Voters’ top issues favored Trump

A majority of South Carolina GOP primary participants said immigration and the economy were the two issues that were most determinative to their vote. And those voters largely favored Trump. 

Among the 37% of voters who said immigration was their top issue, Trump won 82%, while Haley won just 18%. And among the 33% of voters who said the economy was their top issue, Trump won 64% to Haley’s 36%. 

Haley bested Trump among voters who said foreign policy and abortion were their top issues, but those voters made up just one-fifth of the primary electorate. 

4. Voters made up their minds before Haley’s rise

Trump’s commanding win also comes as the vast majority of voters who turned out Saturday said that they made up their minds on which candidate to support even before the first primary contests took place last month — and well before the primary became a two-person race between Trump and Haley. 

A whopping 77% said they decided who to support before January, and roughly three in four of those voters supported Trump. Just 7% decided who they would vote for in January, 7% decided earlier in February and 8% made their decisions in the last week. 

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