Voters of color are a big reason Trump leads the GOP primary
Former President Donald Trump holds an average double-digit advantage over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in national 2024 Republican primary surveys. That, in itself, isn’t notable given Trump, the frontrunner, has been ahead of DeSantis (by far his nearest competitor or potential competitor) since polling began about the race.
But what may surprise is how Trump is ahead. An average of CNN/SSRS and Quinnipiac University polls released this week reveals that Trump’s lead may, in large part, be because of his clear edge among potential Republican primary voters of color.
Trump was up an average of 55% to 26% over DeSantis among Republican (and Republican leaning independent) voters of color in an average of the two polls.
Among White Republican voters, the race was well within the margin of error: Trump’s 38% to DeSantis’ 37%.
I should note the combined voter of color sample size of the CNN/SSRS and Quinnipiac University is about 200 respondents. This isn’t particularly large, but it’s more than large enough to say with a high degree of statistical confidence that Trump is ahead among them and that he is doing better among them than he is among White Republicans.
The fact that Trump is doing considerably better among Republican voters of color than White Republicans flies in the face of the fact that many Americans view Trump as racist. I noted in 2019 that more Americans described Trump as racist than the percentage of Americans who said that about segregationist and presidential candidate George Wallace in 1968.
But Trump’s overperformance with Republican voters of color makes sense in another way. The Republican primary race right down is breaking down along class lines just like it did during the 2016 primary.
Trump’s base is made up of Republicans whose households pull in less than $50,000 a year. He led this group of voters by 22 points over DeSantis in our CNN poll. He trailed DeSantis by 13 points among those GOP voters making at least $50,000 a year. This is a 35 point swing between these two income brackets.
Republican voters of color are far more likely than White Republicans to have a household income of less than $50,000 a year. According to the CNN poll, 45% of Republican voters of color do compared to just 28% of White Republicans.
Trump’s lead among Republican voters of color comes at a time when they’re becoming a larger part of the party. During the Republican primary season in 2016, voters of color were 13% of Republican voters. Today, they’re closer to 18%.
To put that into some perspective, White voters with a college degree are about 28% of Republican potential primary voters. Trump, of course, has historically struggled among well educated White voters, even within own party.
While voters of color don’t make up nearly the same share of the Republican party as White voters with a college degree, the difference isn’t all that large. This means that if Trump ultimately does as well with Republican voters of color as the current polling indicates, it would be a good counterbalance for his weakness among White voters with a college degree.
Trump doing better among Republican voters of color now is after he dramatically improved among all voters of color during the 2020 general election. While he still lost among them in 2020 by 45 points to Joe Biden in exit poll data, this was down from his 53-point loss in the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton. (Other data shows a similar improvement for Trump.)
Trump’s improvement with voters of color occurred even as his margin among White voters declined between 2020 and 2016. In fact, Trump probably would have won the 2020 election had he had slightly less slippage among White voters between 2016 and 2020.
Indeed, the Republican Party as a whole has been improving among voters of color. The party’s 38-point loss among that bloc for the House of Representatives in the 2022 midterms was a 5-point improvement from 2020. Its margin among White voters stayed the same in exit poll data.
Put another way: The shift among voters of color from 2022 to 2020 could have provided the winning margin for Republicans to take back the House.
The question going into 2024 is whether voters of color will continue their shift to the Republican Party and with Trump in particular. If they do, they could provide them both with a big boost.