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Trump’s Michigan Primary “Win” Shows Fissures in His Support From GOP Voters

More than 3 in 10 Michigan voters picked an option other than Trump in Tuesday's primary race.

Former President Donald Trump walks on stage to speak during an election night watch party at the State Fairgrounds on February 24, 2024, in Columbia, South Carolina.

Although former President Donald Trump, the current frontrunner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination for the third election cycle in a row, handily defeated former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in the Michigan primary election on Tuesday, there are signs that he may face challenges to winning the 2024 presidential contest when the general election season begins in earnest.

Most analysts have noted that Trump’s main roadblock to winning the White House this year has always been President Joe Biden, the all-but-assured nominee for the Democratic Party. But analyses of the data from Michigan and other Republican primaries so far show that a small but significant portion of his own voter base may be fizzling out, creating an additional hurdle for him come this fall.

Trump won the Michigan primary by over 40 points, amassing 68.2 percent of the vote on the GOP side of the primary election, with Haley garnering just 26.6 percent. Three percent of voters selected the uncommitted option, while 2.2 percent went to other candidates who were listed on the ballot.

While “a win is a win,” the numbers show that Trump, who frequently brags about the strength of his pull in the Republican Party, doesn’t have complete sway over the GOP voting base. Indeed, examined in a different light, more than 3 in 10 voters selected options other than Trump on Tuesday.

Michigan has an open primary system, which allows voters to vote on any party’s ballot regardless of their political affiliation — Democratic voters, for instance, could have voted on the Republican side, if they wanted to, and vice versa. However, given the movement for Democratic voters to cast protest votes against Biden to voice dissatisfaction over his support for Israel’s genocide in Gaza, it’s unlikely that such crossover voting was prevalent.

The numbers are also consistent with GOP primaries in other states where the vote is restricted to Republican voters only. Trump, for example, only received 54 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary last month, where only Republican and unaffiliated voters are allowed to take part.

Trump’s main struggles in the primaries so far are with voters who live in the suburbs and who consider themselves moderate. While it’s expected that most of these voters will vote for Trump once Haley does eventually drop out of the race, a sizable number say they absolutely won’t do so — a NORC analysis of three nominating contests before Michigan, for example, found that one in five Republican primary- and caucus-goers won’t back Trump in the general election against President Joe Biden.

“Once we get into the general election and Republicans don’t have a choice, some of those voters will come home, but in a close election, those voters are why Trump lost in 2020,” GOP strategist Alex Conant told The Hill. “I think it is problematic, and it’s striking how Trump has done nothing to expand his appeal since 2020.”

Trump also appears to be underperforming in elections compared to how he fared in polls. According to RealClearPolitics, Trump was averaging a 19.3-point lead in the New Hampshire primary, a 23.3-point lead in South Carolina and a 33.7 point-lead in the Iowa caucus — within those races, however, Trump’s spread lead dropped by 8.1 points, 3.0 points and 4.0 points, respectively.

A similar result happened this week in Michigan, Political Wire’s Taegan Goddard noted in an analysis of the GOP primary outcome there.

“Trump underperformed the public polls again,” Goddard wrote. “He received 68.2% of the vote in Michigan as compared to his FiveThirtyEight polling average of 78.7%. It’s the fourth consecutive race where Trump has underperformed the polls.”

According to Goddard, the fact that Trump is underperforming in these states compared to his polls “could call into question the general election polling showing him leading Biden.”

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