For Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, Exit Polling Shows General Election Challenges

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking March 15 in Phoenix, Ariz.

By LINDA KILLIAN – – – – –

Linda Killian is executive director of Independent Americans United and a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Her most recent book is “The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents.” She is on Twitter: @lindajkillian.

 

Exit polling from the primaries in Ohio and Florida, two of the biggest and most important swing states, suggests that neither Bernie Sanders nor Donald Trump would make strong general election candidates.

The demographic groups that Mr. Sanders carried in both Ohio and Florida were young voters, white men, those without religious affiliation, those who considered themselves very liberal, independents, and those who said income inequality is the biggest problem facing the nation. This gives a sense of who the senator’s supporters are as well as the kind of campaign he has run. It also suggests constraints on Mr. Sanders’s ability to appeal broadly to a national electorate.

Mr. Trump won four of five states on Tuesday, but 41% of Republican primary voters in Ohio and 37% in Florida said they think Mr. Trump has run the most unfair campaign of the candidates. Fifty-three percent of Ohio GOP voters said they do not think Mr. Trump is honest or trustworthy.

Forty-three percent of Republican voters in Ohio said they would consider voting for a third-party candidate if Mr. Trump is the GOP nominee and Hillary Clinton the Democratic nominee. Twenty-four percent of Florida Republicans said they would not vote for Mr. Trump in November if he was their party’s nominee.

In Ohio, Mr. Trump was defeated by John Kasich 47% to 36%, but the businessman drew more support than the governor among voters there who consider immigration the most important issue, those who are angry about the federal government, those who say trade takes away jobs, and those who believe illegal immigrants should be deported. Mr. Trump also did well among the 64% of Republican voters in Ohio who said they think Muslims should be banned from entering the U.S.

The demographic groups that Mr. Trump carried in Ohio were voters with no college degree, those earning less than $50,000 a year, those who said they are falling behind financially, those who consider themselves very conservative, and rural voters. All of these subsets are core to Mr. Trump’s base.

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have tapped into a zeitgeist of voter anger at politics as usual and a desire for change. But their core support comes from specific slices of the electorate. It’s not clear that their success with frustrated anti-establishment voters can translate to general-election success.

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