Nikki Haley Announces Support for Trump: Who Are Her Voters?

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Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley publicly announced for the first time that she will vote for former President Donald Trump this year.

By essentially endorsing Trump in the general election, Haley may shed light on another crucial question: Who are her voters?

Haley’s campaign for the Republican nomination raised a third question. Polls consistently find Trump securing about 90% of the GOP vote in general election matchups against President Joe Biden. Trump is also leading Biden in most such surveys, suggesting minimal GOP defections.

Despite dropping out, Haley has sometimes garnered over 10% of the vote in Republican primaries. In former Vice President Mike Pence’s Indiana earlier this month, she received 21.7%. She secured 16.6% in Pennsylvania. In earlier, more competitive primaries, exit polls demonstrated deep dissatisfaction among Haley voters with a Trump nomination. A March Emerson College poll showed Haley voters leaning 63% for Biden to 27% for Trump.

So what’s the reasoning?

“Trump has not been perfect on these policies, but Biden has been a catastrophe. So I will be voting for Trump,” Haley stated at a Hudson Institute event in Washington, D.C., after listing her policy priorities.

The reaction was swift and, in some areas, intense. The Haley vote in the Republican primaries became the anti-Trump vote.

There’s some reason to believe Haley’s vote totals were supported by anti-Trump voters who are no longer Republicans, if they ever were. She did win one closed primary, a low-turnout event in Washington, D.C., but many of her strongest showings occurred in open and semi-open primaries due to the lack of a competitive Democratic presidential race.

In Haley’s home state of South Carolina, she finished just under 40% of the vote. However, Trump won 72% of self-identified Republicans, according to exit polls, to Haley’s 28%. Haley captured 59% of South Carolinians who had never voted in a Republican primary before.

In New Hampshire, where Haley won 43% overall, Trump defeated her 74% to 25% among voters who identified as Republicans.

Only 29% of Haley’s New Hampshire voters said they were strongly for her candidacy. Another 31% supported her with reservations. A plurality of 39% stated they disliked other candidates, likely Trump. Eighty percent of Trump voters were solidly behind the former president, while only 3% were primarily voting against other candidates.

Trump secured 85% of North Carolina primary voters who considered themselves Republicans before Election Day, although he also bested Haley among independents 54% to 40%. Haley captured 57% of those who had never voted in a Republican primary before. In the Tar Heel State’s primary, 48% of Haley voters approved of the job Biden is doing compared to 52% who disapproved. Among Trump voters, 2% approved and 96% disapproved.

The pattern was similar in Virginia. Forty-eight percent of Haley voters approved of Biden compared to 51% who disapproved. Only 1% of Trump voters approved compared to 97% who disapproved. Trump won 79% of Virginians who identified as Republicans before the primary. Haley captured 84% of the small number who identified as Democrats.

These data points, along with the anger at Haley for choosing Trump, support NBC News’s Steve Kornacki’s theory as to why she performs decently in the primaries, but the former president retains most Republicans in general election polls.

“The answer that reconciles those figures, or at least a big part of them, with the general election polling is that many of these Haley votes are likely coming from people who already cast ballots against Trump in 2016 and 2020 — and who are committed to doing so again in 2024,” he writes. “To them, these primaries amount to a bonus opportunity to cast yet another vote against Trump.”

That doesn’t mean Haley’s voters are insignificant. Trump needs every Republican he can get, as well as support from suburban women. But the persistent Haley vote might indicate that anti-Trump voters will turn out for anyone, even candidates who have dropped out, to register their protest. That’s a problem, but a different kind of problem than a divided GOP.

Haley’s endorsement, however lukewarm, isn’t surprising. She criticized Trump in 2016 but ultimately voted for him twice, joined his administration, gave an enthusiastic speech likening him to President Ronald Reagan at the 2020 GOP convention, and contemplated deferring to him in the primaries this year.

However, many of Haley’s voters made their decisions about Trump long ago and won’t be influenced by her choice.

W. James Antle III
W. James Antle III
Executive Editor. He was previously politics editor of the Washington Examiner, managing editor of the Daily Caller, associate editor of the American Spectator, and senior writer for the American Conservative.

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