John McCain: The Non-Republicans' Republican

Arizona Sen. John McCain is now the clear favorite to be the Republican nominee, but the odd thing is that he hasn’t been put there by Republican voters. Examining the exit polls from McCain’s three primary wins — in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida — reveals that McCain has moved to the front of the pack on the strength of liberal voters and those who don’t even identify as Republicans.

In those three states, exit polls showed most GOP primary voters took the conservative side on the issues of abortion, same-sex marriage and illegal immigration. On these issues, as well as on questions of religion and a voter’s opinion of the Bush Administration, wherever most Republican voters were, John McCain lost. Among those holding the minority viewpoint on all these issues, McCain won.

There were variations among the states — for example, in non-ideological New Hampshire, McCain did as well among pro-lifers as among pro-choicers — but the theme was consistent: Non-Republicans and atypical Republicans supported McCain. Typical Republicans and conservatives voted either for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

State Majority Position Majority % Winner Winner % McCain %
New Hampshire Anti-Civil Unions 60% Romney 36% 32%
Republican 61% Romney 35% 34%
Conservative 55% Romney 38% 30%
South Carolina Pro-life 70% Huckabee 38% 27%
Weekly church 64% Huckabee 41% 27%
Evangelicals 60% Huckabee 43% 27%
Approve of Bush Administration 69% Huckabee 33% 31%
Conservative 69% Huckabee 35% 26%
Deport illegal immigrants 52% Huckabee 34% 26%
Florida Pro-life 52% Romney 35% 29%
Approve of Bush Administration 68% Romney 35% 31%
Conservative 61% Romney 37% 29%

Famously, in New Hampshire, McCain lost the Republican vote to Romney, but won on the strength of independent and Democratic voters. Interestingly, in South Carolina and Florida, voters who identified as Republicans voted mostly for Huckabee and Romney, respectively, while self-identified independents overwhelmingly favored McCain.


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