At least one in six Republican primary voters have backed Haley in three states since her withdrawal from the race

A refrain heard across many media outlets during the contested Republican presidential primary contests through Super Tuesday was pointing out the percentage of GOP voters who were not backing Donald Trump even as he cruised to victories in almost every contest.

Whether his opponents were winning 20, 30, or 40 percent, the question often posed was how many of these Republican primary voters (particularly in closed primaries) would still not vote for Trump in November’s general election.

Although Trump’s chief challenger, Nikki Haley, withdrew from the race on March 6th, she still received a healthy percentage of the primary vote in three of the nine states that have held primaries since: 19.2 percent in Washington, 17.8 percent in Arizona, and 16.1 percent in Kansas. [Note: Washington had an 18-day voting period including 12 days prior to Haley’s withdrawal.]

Are these numbers of support for a candidate no longer in the race indicative of an inordinate opposition to Trump, or is it par for the course as the primary calendar plays out?

Smart Politics examined the 1972+ election results of the more than 100 Democratic and Republican presidential candidates who dropped out of the race during the primary season and appeared on ballots in states conducting primary contests following their withdrawal.

Withdrawn candidates have notched more than 15 percent of the vote more than four-dozen times prior to Nikki Haley including a majority (64 percent) in races against presumptive nominees who went on to win the presidency that autumn.

Bernie Sanders was the most recent candidate to do so – reaching 15+ percent in eight contests following his exit in the 2020 cycle on April 8th.

Sanders proceeded to receive approximately one-sixth to one-third of the vote against Joe Biden in Ohio (16.7 percent, April 28), Oregon (20.6 percent, May 19), Kansas (22.6 percent, May 20), Hawaii (35.2 percent, May 22), New Mexico (15.1 percent, June 2), Pennsylvania (18.0 percent, June 2), South Dakota (22.5 percent, June 2), and New York (16.3 percent, June 23).

The candidate with the largest number of sizable state primary footprints after ending a campaign is Democrat Bill Bradley in 2000.

Bradley – Al Gore’s only non-fringe opponent that cycle – withdrew two days after Super Tuesday on March 9th.

A significant number of voters still cast their primary votes for the former New Jersey U.S. Senator in 12 states including residents in one state three months after his campaign ended: Colorado (23.3 percent, March 10), Utah (20.1 percent, March 10), Florida (18.2 percent, March 14), Louisiana (19.9 percent, March 14), Oklahoma (25.4 percent, March 14), Texas (16.3 percent, March 14), Nebraska (26.5 percent, May 9), West Virginia (18.4 percent, May 9), Indiana (21.9 percent, May 20), North Carolina (18.3 percent, May 20), and New Mexico (20.6 percent, June 6).

George W. Bush’s chief opponent in 2000, Arizona Republican U.S. Senator John McCain, also reached the 15 percent mark in eight states following his withdrawal on March 9th: Colorado (27.1 percent), Florida (19.9 percent), Illinois (21.5 percent, March 21), Pennsylvania (22.4 percent, April 4), Wisconsin (18.1 percent, April 4), Washington, D.C. (24.4 percent, May 2), Indiana (18.8 percent), and Nebraska (15.1 percent, May 9).

But the most notable post-candidacy primary performance was turned in during the 2004 cycle by former Vermont Governor (and former Democratic frontrunner) Howard Dean.

Dean withdrew from the race on February 18 – the day after a distant third-place finish in the Wisconsin primary.

Two weeks later, however, 53.6 percent of voters in his home state rewarded him with a decisive 22-point victory over eventual nominee John Kerry.

The only other former candidate to win the most votes in a primary since 1972 was Democratic California Governor Jerry Brown in Michigan in 1980 – although it comes with an asterisk.

Michigan’s 141 delegates had previously been awarded via caucuses, so the state’s May 20th primary was simply a beauty contest. Brown, who withdrew on April 1st, was not opposed on the primary ballot by President Jimmy Carter or Massachusetts U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, and received 29.4 percent of the vote to defeat Lyndon LaRouche. However, a plurality 46.4 percent of voters still chose ‘uncommitted.’

Other withdrawn candidates with notable post-exit primary performances include:

  • Republican George H.W. Bush, 1980 (withdrew May 26): New Jersey (17.1 percent, June 3), Ohio (19.2 percent, June 3), and Rhode Island (18.6 percent, June 3)
  • Republican Illinois U.S. Representative John Anderson, 1980 (withdrew April 24th to run as an independent): Washington D.C. (26.9 percent, May 6)
  • Republican Kansas U.S. Senator Bob Dole, 1988 (withdrew March 29): Oregon (17.9 percent, May 17), Montana (19.4 percent, June 7)
  • Former Democratic Massachusetts U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas, 1992 (withdrew March 19): Connecticut (19.5 percent, March 24), Kansas (15.2 percent, April 7), Minnesota (21.3 percent, April 7), New York (28.6 percent, April 7), and Wisconsin (21.8 percent, April 7)
  • Republican businessman Steve Forbes, 1996 (withdrew March 14): Nevada (19.2 percent, March 26)
  • Democratic North Carolina U.S. Senator John Edwards, 2004 (withdrew March 2): Louisiana (16.1 percent, March 9)
  • Former Republican Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, 2008 (withdrew February 7): Washington (16.2 percent, February 9)
  • Former Republican Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, 2012 (withdrew April 10): Pennsylvania (18.4 percent, April 22)
  • Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, 2016 (withdrew May 3): Nebraska (18.4 percent, May 10), Oregon (16.6 percent, May 17), and South Dakota (17.0 percent, June 7)
  • Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich, 2016 (withdrew May 4): Oregon (15.8 percent) and South Dakota (16.0 percent)

In short, do not be surprised if Haley wins 15+ percent of the vote in at least one of the five states holding primaries next Tuesday: Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.

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