Are Independents And Democrats Really Behind Donald Trump's Success So Far?

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We’ve had many discussions about the role of independents and cross-over voters in the rise of Donald Trump. There is a not so small group of conservatives who believe the Trump is fueled either in part, or in entirety, by Democrats voting for Trump in open primaries or by previously disengaged independents turning out. According to the Washington Post, neither of those suppositions bears up under analysis.


It’s obvious that there is a large part of the Republican Party that would very much like Donald Trump to go away. As a corollary to that, there is a large part of the opposition to Trump that insists that he’s winning because independents are tipping the scales in what would otherwise be a close contest among Republicans.

A key part of that argument derives from where Ted Cruz has won so far, including Kansas on Saturday night: Caucus and primary states in which voting is closed to non-Republicans. That was the case in Iowa, it was the case in Alaska, it was the case in Oklahoma. Cruz won them all. Why? Because it was Republicans-only, the argument goes.

There are two problems with that argument, though. The first is that Trump has been winning Republican voters in most states, or doing just as well with both Republicans and independents. The second problem is Nevada.

As a caveat, I will not that this analysis is based on exit polls. If you really believe exit polls then you know that John Kerry won in 2004. Exit polls have a level of error that dwarfs any error introduced in telephone interviews because you have face-to-face interaction between pollster and respondent. This is never, ever, a good thing as it introduces race, class, and sex as potential biases in both the selection of respondents and the answers given. Having said that, this is what the Washington Post found:


independent vote

If we look at data from entrance and exit polls for a slew of early states (as reported by CNN), you can see that Trump did as well or better with Republicans than he did with independents in 11 of the 13 states below. In only two, South Carolina and Arkansas, did he do better with independents.

In other words, Trump would have done just as well in those states if no independents had voted. In fact, in a place like Alabama, he would have done better if no independents had shown up.

And then there’s Nevada. It, too, was a closed caucus. And Trump won by a wide margin.

Throughout this election season the only critiques offered of Trump’s success are a) his supporters are Democrats and b) his supporters are racists and stupid in the bargain. We now know with some certainty that the first case is not true. And, it is more likely than not that the second is wrong as well. The first step in fixing a problem is realizing that you have a problem.




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