Two-thirds of New Hampshire Republican primary voters agree with Donald Trump’s proposal to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the United States. And they overwhelmingly express fear of another terrorist attack. On the Democratic side, young voters and those most concerned about inequality and political integrity gave Sen. Bernie Sanders a convincing victory.
Those concerns helped drive Trump and Sanders to victory in New Hampshire on Tuesday night. Exit polls offered a portrait of the first wave of American voters to cast ballots in a 2016 election that has already defied expectations and posed a sharp challenge to leading political dynasties.
Democratic voters valuing honesty or empathy over experience or electability propelled Sanders to a solid victory. As in Iowa a week ago, the Vermont senator trounced Hillary Clinton among young voters and among those who said trustworthiness and “caring about people like me” were critical to their votes.
A quarter of Democratic voters said the right experience was most important to them, while slightly more than 1 in 10 said it was someone who can win in November. They strongly backed Clinton.
Clinton topped Sanders by a wide margin among voters who said the next president should generally continue President Barack Obama’s policies. But they accounted for only about 4 in 10 Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire — far fewer than in Iowa.
Instead, just as many voters said the next president should change to more liberal policies — and 8 in 10 of these voters backed Sanders. Almost two-thirds of Democratic voters said they support replacing the current health care system with a single taxpayer-funded plan for all Americans.
The New Hampshire results offer little clue to how Sanders will fare when the primary race moves to Southern and Midwestern states, where Clinton enjoys strong support among African-Americans, Latinos, lower-income voters and union members. But his dominance so far among young people, independents and very liberal voters — a growing segment of the Democratic electorate — has put him in a surprisingly strong position after the first two contests.
In New Hampshire, Sanders also was backed by more than half of women, particularly younger women.
More than 4 in 10 of those who voted in the Republican primary identified as independents, and they largely backed Trump. Only about 15 percent of voters in the Republican primary were first-time voters, compared with 12 percent in 2012. They, too, overwhelmingly supported Trump, a sign that he has succeeded in bringing new voters to the polls.
Independents accounted for 4 in 10 Democratic primary voters Tuesday, and 7 in 10 of them supported Sanders. In last week’s Iowa caucuses, Sanders received about as much support from independents, but they made up only 20 percent of Democratic caucusgoers. New Hampshire Democrats were closely divided between the candidates.
Republican voters saw Trump as the best candidate to handle an international crisis, and 9 in 10 said they were somewhat worried or very worried about another terrorist attack in the United States.
With near unanimity, Republican primary voters said they were concerned about the direction of the economy in the next few years, and they overwhelmingly backed Trump, who has run on his record as a businessman and billionaire. He was also chosen by a more than 2-1 ratio over any other candidate as best able to handle the economy.
Despite Trump’s wide support, there were some cracks that might give him problems in the coming weeks.
Asked to select the candidate quality that mattered most to them, Republican voters said they wanted a candidate who shared their values. Those voters supported Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio over Trump. Trump won the voters who said they were looking for someone who can bring about change and those looking for someone who tells it as it is.
The exit polls were conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points for Republican and Democratic primary voters.