WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — Donald Trump began his Republican presidential campaign by labeling Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals. He's since profanely promised to bomb Islamic State fighters. He's endorsed using torture on foreign prisoners.
In his final rally before the New Hampshire primary, Trump repeated a supporter's shouted insult of a rival, effectively calling Texas Sen. Ted Cruz an uncouth epithet for a coward.
Yet contrary to the conventional rules of presidential politics, the bombast and vulgarity have not hurt the billionaire real estate titan's first bid for public office. Rather, all evidence, including the exit polls of New Hampshire's primary voters, suggests Trump's style only helps him.
The poll was conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Research as voters left their polling places at 44 randomly selected sites in New Hampshire.
About a quarter of the GOP electorate Tuesday said they want a candidate who "tells it like it is." Trump won two-thirds of them in a field of nine candidates. Trump also claimed the advantage among the 28 percent of Republicans who said they want a candidate who "can bring needed change." He attracted 37 percent of that group, well ahead of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who got 20 percent.
The electorate also was firmly behind Trump's controversial proposal to indefinitely ban all noncitizen Muslims from entering the United States. Two-thirds of the GOP primary voters agreed with Trump, and he won votes from 45 percent of them. No other candidate reached 15 percent, even those who agreed with or opted not to criticize Trump for floating the idea.
New Hampshire voters leaned more moderate on immigration overall than Trump. They were more likely to say they think immigrants in the United States illegally should be allowed to apply for legal status than to call for their immediate deportation, as Trump has advocated. Yet among the hardliners, Trump commanded a majority, 51 percent, more than doubling up Cruz, another immigration hardliner, who came in at 19 percent.
Those results and other details from the poll confirm that Trump is casting a wide net across the GOP spectrum and that he's well-positioned to battle Cruz for the most conservative voters in South Carolina's Feb. 20 primary and the conservative Southern states that follow in March.
The GOP-dominated region has long been defined by a deep distrust of Washington, and in recent years has elected a number of tea party candidates to Congress, all of them promising to fight President Barack Obama.
So it's a boon for Trump that he performed so well in New Hampshire among voters who said they are angry about the way the federal government is working. That group made up almost 4 out of 10 voters Tuesday, and 44 percent of them voted for Trump.
He drew 62 percent support among the half of GOP New Hampshire voters who want the next president to be from outside the political establishment. Those preferring an outsider also supported Trump by a 46 percent to 20 percent margin over Cruz in last week's Iowa caucuses.
Trump even matched Cruz among New Hampshire Republicans who call themselves evangelical Christians. Cruz had won a plurality of that group in the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses. Cruz on Wednesday previewed what could be a brawl for that faction in South Carolina, calling the state a "Southern Baptist state" like Texas. An independent super PAC supporting Cruz already has broadcast television ads hitting Trump for his previous support for abortion rights.
If there is an advantage for Cruz heading into the South Carolina battle for conservative Christians, it could be found among the New Hampshire voters who said they want a candidate who "shares my values." About a third of the voters listed that as their top priority, the most frequently mentioned attribute, and just 13 percent of them supported Trump. Kasich and Cruz led that group, and Cruz also claimed the largest share of those voters in Iowa.
A desire for changing the status quo made a big difference on the Democratic side, as well. Although Democratic primary voters didn't feel quite as negative about the government as their Republican counterparts, 49 percent of them said they were dissatisfied with the way the federal government is working and another 12 percent said they were angry.
Sen. Bernie Sanders was supported by 7 in 10 voters who were angry or dissatisfied, while Hillary Clinton won a majority of those with more positive feelings about the federal government.
And although less than 3 in 10 Democratic voters said they wanted the next president to be someone from outside the political establishment, 88 percent of those who did said they voted for the Vermont senator. Among those who preferred someone with political experience instead, Sanders and Clinton were tied.
The exit poll results include interviews with 2,222 Democratic primary voters and 2,036 Republican primary voters and have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Barrow reported from Columbia, South Carolina.
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