The increasingly acrimonious Republican primary contest is raising critical questions about its impact on voter turnout in the fall.
If Donald Trump is the nominee, will anti-Trump Republicans stay home in November?
Or if the #NeverTrump movement succeeds in nominating another Republican at the Cleveland convention, will Trump’s backers abandon the Republicans in the general election?
To get an early read on those questions, SurveyMonkey’s latest election tracking poll asked registered voters nationwide about their intent to vote under two hypothetical scenarios:
- If the nominees for President are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
- If the nominees are Clinton and a Republican other than Trump.
We asked both questions late in the interview following the various measures of vote preference and rotated their order.
At first glance, the overall results of these two questions seem very similar. Seven out of ten registered voters (70%) describe themselves as “absolutely certain” to vote on a Trump-Clinton contest, with 80% at least “very likely” to vote. Slightly fewer (67%) say they are “absolutely certain” to vote if Clinton faces a Republican other than Trump, with 81 percent at least “very likely” to vote.
However, these overall results mask shifting preferences among about a quarter of registered voters, with potentially important consequences for the ultimate Republican nominee.
- Republicans who support Donald Trump are more likely to say they are absolutely certain to vote in the fall more if he is the nominee (88%) than if he is not (65%).
- Those numbers are nearly reversed among supporters of Ted Cruz, 64% of whom are certain about voting if Trump is the nominee, compared to 84% who say they are absolutely certain to vote if some candidate other than Trump is the Republican nominee.
- This pattern is the same for Kasich voters; their self-reported turnout certainty jumps from 59 to 74% if Republicans nominate a candidate other than Trump.
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Put another way, a quarter of Donald Trump’s backers (25%) rate their chances of voting as 50–50 or less if he is not the nominee, while a similar share of Cruz and Kasich supporters (24 and 27% respectively) say they are 50–50 or less if Trump gets the nod.
Under either scenario—Trump or another Republican as nominee—the results reverse the usual pattern by party. Typically, the most likely voters are slightly more Republican than other registered voters. In this case, however, the potential hesitance of either Trump or #NeverTrump voters gives Democrats a slight edge on self-reported vote likelihood under either hypothetical scenario.
Of course, it is difficult to impossible to predict the degree to which these survey responses will translate into actual voting behavior. Historically, polls have often shown intra-party strife in the midst of heated primaries that fades following the party conventions, when parties and losing candidates rally around their nominee.
As such, the critical question will be how the Republican primary ends and, perhaps, whether those using the #NeverTrump slogan really mean it.
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