March 15 Exit Poll Results: Fractures in the GOP

Divisions in the Republican Party -– a big story throughout this primary season -- got a lot bigger this past week with Donald Trump’s rivals criticizing him over the handling of protesters at his events. A number of Republican leaders have said that they will not support Trump if he is the party’s nominee.

Among Republican voters today, there is evidence that at least some of the party’s rank and file share that view. The NBC News Exit Poll in five Republican primary states today asked voters if they would be satisfied with the choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton this fall, or if they would seriously consider voting for a third-party candidate.

This is potentially a problem for the party, given that the states voting today represent some of the most important and vote-rich swing states in the nation. The number of GOP voters saying they’d consider a third-party vote is substantial in all of the states polled today. Overall, about four in 10 say they’d consider voting for a third-party candidate if their choice in the fall in Clinton vs. Trump.

The picture is even clearer if we look just at those GOP voters who selected someone other than Trump today. Across the five states polled today, six in 10 of those who didn’t vote for Trump say they’d seriously consider a third party candidate.

Voters were also asked directly about their willingness to vote for each of the candidates this fall if they become the party’s nominee. Not only are significant numbers of voters unwilling to vote for Trump, many also say they won’t vote for other candidates.

Looking first at Trump, across the five states, about one in four voters overall, and more than three in 10 among those who voted for someone else today, say they would not vote for Trump if he is the party’s nominee. Just half overall say they would definitely vote for Trump in the fall.

But the party’s divisions don’t end with Trump. Many voters today express uncertainty about voting for Ted Cruz, should he be the party’s eventual nominee. About one in five overall say they would not vote for Cruz if he is the nominee this fall. Fewer than half say they would definitely vote for him. In the key swing state of Ohio, nearly three in 10 say they won’t vote for Cruz in the fall.

Illustrating the party’s dilemma as it potentially faces a long internal battle until the July convention in Cleveland, the animosity toward Trump from supporters of the other candidates is a two-way street. A lot of Trump voters today said they wouldn’t vote for the other candidates. For example, in Illinois and Missouri, at least a third of Trump voters say they wouldn’t for John Kasich. About four in 10 Trump voters across Florida, Ohio and North Carolina say they won’t support Marco Rubio. And across all five states today, about three in 10 Trump voters say they won’t support Ted Cruz.