This Enlightening New York Exit Poll Could Reveal Something Vital About November
The Democratic and Republican primaries have become extremely competitive and divisive, and it wouldn't be a stretch to say that both parties are embroiled in their own civil wars. For months, the biggest question has been which of these civil wars will prove more destructive. A revealing exit poll from the New York primary sheds some light on this, and it could mean big things for each party and their ability to get supporters to the polls in November.
Upon leaving the polling booths, New York voters of all stripes were asked whether the primary campaign has left their party feeling energized or divided. Democrats were largely optimistic: About 68 percent of them said the campaign has energized the party, compared with just 27 percent who felt the primary has been divisive. But Republicans were much less rosy-eyed: Only 39 percent felt that the GOP had been energized by the primary, while 57 percent felt the campaign has left the party divided.
This is quite revealing. Just about every primary campaign feels unprecedentedly competitive and aggressive in the moment, and it's always tempting to conclude that a divisive primary will hurt a party's ability to unite in November. But those conclusions are often wrong. The 2008 Democratic primary, for example, was nothing short of vicious, but the party healed its internal divisions pretty quickly after Barack Obama became the nominee, and Democrats turned out in droves to pull the lever for him in the general election.
In other words, a competitive primary doesn't always diminish a party's chances of winning the general election. The party just needs some time to heal after the nomination is settled, and the results this exit poll imply that in 2016, the post-primary healing process will be easier for Democrats than Republicans.
This matters because both parties will have a lot of healing to do. On the Democratic side, it's not at all clear that Bernie Sanders supporters will vote for Hillary Clinton if, as the delegate math suggests, she becomes the nominee. Meanwhile, Donald Trump has polarized the GOP so intensely that, no matter who wins the party's nomination, a good chunk of GOP primary voters won't pull the lever for them.
Democrats overwhelmingly believe that the spirited debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has made party regulars more excited about voting Democratic. If that's true, the party will have a relatively easy time uniting in November. But a majority of the Republican Party feels divided by the campaign, and that suggests it will be an uphill climb for them to wrangle together a winning coalition in the general election.
We shouldn't over-conclude from this, however. It's possible that the respondents in this poll are misperceiving the feelings of their party as a whole. After all, they were asked whether they believe their party feels energized or divided, not whether they feel energized or divided. A lot can change between now and November, and moreover, sometimes polls are just wrong. Still, Democrats should be smiling wide at these results, while Republicans, if they're not already freaking out, should start.