The Hidden Group that Won the Election for Trump: Exit Poll Analysis from Edison Research

By: Larry Rosin

“I don’t think there’s ever been two more unlikeable candidates,’ said Michael Che during the Weekend Update sketch on Saturday Night Live this week.  “Not one time in this election have I heard anyone say: ‘You know what? I like them both.'”

The data from the Exit Polls conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool show Mr. Che to be correct – an extremely small portion of the voting public (only 2%) told our exit pollsters they had a favorable view of both.  While most voters did have a favorable view of one of the two major candidates – an astonishing 18% of the electorate told us they had an unfavorable opinion of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  And this is the group that won the election for Trump.

2016-exit-poll-data-favorable-unfavorable

The fact that nearly one-in-five voters who didn’t like either major candidate still came out to vote is pretty remarkable.  This number is double what we saw four years ago (9% were unfavorable to both in 2012) and nearly four times what we saw in the Bush-Kerry match-up of 2004 (favorability ratings were not asked in the 2008 exit polls).

As you might expect, if you had a favorable impression of one candidate and not the other, in virtually every case you voted for that one candidate.  So had those with a negative view of both candidates split evenly, Clinton would have won rather easily.  However, as the graph below shows, this “Neithers” group broke strongly to Trump 49% to 29%.

2016-exit-poll-data-the-neithers

The story gets even more pronounced when we look at the states that swung the election to Trump.  In each of the cases in the table below, the votes gained by people who said: “I don’t like Trump but I’m going to vote for him anyhow” is greater than his total margin in these states.  In other words – it was the “Neithers” who pushed Trump over the top in these states and ultimately won him the election.

State % “Neithers” Trump Clinton
Wisconsin 22% 60% 23%
Pennsylvania 17% 56% 31%
Michigan 20% 50% 29%
Florida 14% 61% 24%
North Carolina 15% 63% 28%

The “Neithers” are more likely to be men (61%) and are more likely to be age 30-44 than in the younger or older age groups.  They are 78% white, as compared to the total electorate which is 70%.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the “Neithers” is that a significant portion of those who were unfavorable to both Clinton and Trump were favorable to President Obama.  Nearly half of those who didn’t like either of this year’s two major candidates do have a favorable impression of President Obama – and a significant portion of this group voted for Trump.

The 2016 election was unique in so many ways.  One distinguishing characteristic is just how many people had an unfavorable impression of both of the major party candidates.  To be sure, some of these people decided not to vote for either – Gary Johnson and Jill Stein combined for 18% of the vote among the “Neithers.”  However in the end, far more people who liked neither candidate chose Donald Trump and that provided him with his margin of victory in the battleground states.

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