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Exit poll of South Carolina GOP voters shows support for Trump

A Decision Desk HQ exit poll gauging voter attitudes but not necessarily the outcome of the South Carolina primary saw strong support still for
Exit poll of South Carolina GOP voters shows support for Trump
Posted at 5:31 PM, Feb 24, 2024

As former President Donald Trump and Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the U.N. under the Trump administration, face off on Saturday in South Carolina's GOP presidential primary, Decision Desk HQ gaged voter sentiment on issues in a first-of-its-kind exit poll. 

Before polls closed in the state at 7 p.m. ET, South Carolina Republicans had made their voices heard on a number of issues, but as polls work, it would not have predicted the outcome of the election — rather, it is a measure of voter attitudes on issues like the economy and education. 

It also gave a picture of which candidates voters felt would perform better in office on the issues that mater most for the electorate. 

The poll found that Trump was favored by 78% of South Carolina voters who had a high school diploma or less formal education. 

For those with at least a bachelor's degree, the poll found that 55% of voters favored Trump. And among those with a post-graduate degree, 44% of voters were in favor of Trump. 

For those in the state with a high school degree or less, Haley was favored by 8%, and by 39% of voters with a bachelor's degree. For voters with a post-graduate degree, Haley was favored with 56% of the vote.

When asked about issues they're voting on, 50% of voters polled said the economy topped their concerns. For 27% of voters polled, immigration was a leading issue. Among those who said immigration was their top issue, 86% voted for Trump.

Just 6% of voters in the state who were polled said crime was a top concern and 3% of voters polled named foreign policy as a leading issue.

Among those who named foreign policy as the top issue, 34% said they voted for Trump

Then there was the topic of what is known as crossover voting, with 77% of voters polled in the state saying they more closely identified with the Republican party. 

Though PACs spent millions in campaign funds trying to gain support for Haley among independent and Democratic voters in the open primary, the results of that effort appeared to be disappointing for her supporters and campaign. 

SEE MORE: Inside the Race: Immigration policy, potential shutdown and Michigan

The exit polling results in South Carolina on Saturday were a stark contrast from the support Haley saw in New Hampshire among independents and Democrats over Trump. 

Decision Desk HQ conducted the South Carolina poll using live reporters outside of polling stations across the state on Saturday. Return results factored in age, gender, party identification and education.

Haley, who announced in 2023 that she was running for president, had continued to support Trump, but remained critical on some points of his administration, including his response to the attack on the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. 

She said then, that it was "time for a new generation," becoming the first Republican to challenge the former president and front-running contender for GOP nominee in the 2024 race to the White House. 

Soon, the GOP field of candidates running for the nomination became crowded with former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Chris Christie joining race. After the Iowa caucuses, all but Haley had dropped out. 

Haley, who stepped down as the governor of South Carolina after six years to accept the role of  U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in 2017 under Trump, still faced strong uncertainty about the outcome of the primary election in her own state on Saturday amid an environment where Trump still holds strong support among the established members of the Republican Party and die-hard supporters among the electorate there. 

"South Carolina will vote on Saturday, but on Sunday, I'll still be running for president. I'm not going anywhere," Haley said on Feb. 20. 

Polls even before Saturday's DDHQ/Scripps News exit poll showed Haley trailing the former president by at least 20-30 points in South Carolina. Political pundits and analysts said it wasn't so much about Haley, but about the strong support behind Trump.

Robert Oldendick, a professor of political science at the University of South Carolina, told Scripps News, "If she was running against another slate of candidates, I think she would be leading. But she's up against Donald Trump — and while people like her, they like him better."

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