New Hampshire win masks weakness for Trump with moderates, independents

By Jason Lange and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) – Donald Trump’s victory in the New Hampshire Republican primary on Tuesday masks weakness with independents and moderate voters that could be a warning sign for his likely general election matchup against Democrat Joe Biden, exit poll data and analysts suggest.

The former president’s status as the runaway frontrunner to clinch his party’s presidential nomination got a boost from his win against his only remaining rival, his former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Still, he was only projected to win around half the votes.

And some important slices of the electorate seemed cool to Trump – whose supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 – and favored Haley, according to early New Hampshire exit polls from Edison Research.

Some 35% of voters in New Hampshire’s contest considered themselves moderates or liberals – the kind of voter who will be critical in November’s general election. Only one in five of these voters picked Trump, with about three quarters voting for Haley, according to the exit poll results which were still being updated.

To be sure, New Hampshire’s primary was also open to voters not registered with either party, which led some Democratic-leaning voters to participate.

Still, two political consultants interviewed by Reuters saw warning signs for Trump in the exit poll.

“Trump’s coalition is static and predictable. His base is too small to win a presidential election,” said Arizona-based Republican strategist Chuck Coughlin, who reviewed the data.

Trump’s best hope in a November matchup against Biden, Coughlin said, would be low-enthusiasm among Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

U.S. presidential elections are broadly determined by a half-dozen battleground states, giving outsized influence to independents and moderates there.

Trump also faired poorly among college graduates, winning just 39% of their support to Haley’s 58%. Trump’s weakness was particularly pronounced among college-educated women – at 36%. To be sure, voters with college degrees made up a larger share of voters in the Republican primary than they did nationwide in the 2020 election – about half of Tuesday’s voters versus about 40% in 2020.

New Hampshire, a small and overwhelmingly white northeastern state that has voted Democratic in recent presidential elections, is not necessarily representative of swing states or the United States as a whole.

Still, Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist, said the exit poll reinforced that targeting independents and moderate Republicans had to be a key part of Biden’s strategy against Trump. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2022 to eliminate a nationwide right to abortion may have turned them off Trump even more, Trippi added.

Biden will also be hoping to improve his own popularity, which was near its lowest level of his presidency last month, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, with the economy continuing to be the most important issue concerning Americans. Democrats are also worried third-party bids could siphon votes from Biden in key states.

(Reporting by Jason Lange in Washington and Alexandra Ulmer in San Francisco; Editing by Ross Colvin and Daniel Wallis)