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Polls Reveal Deep Republican Voting Divides

A stack cards used to help sort voters sits ready during voting in the South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Columbia, S.C.

A stack cards used to help sort voters sits ready during voting in the South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Columbia, S.C.

The average Donald Trump voter wants a presidential candidate who supports barring Muslims from the United States.The typical Marco Rubio supporter strongly opposes barring Muslims. Republicans across the United States vote in the same primaries and caucuses but surveys reveal their values and life experiences are very different.

Exit polling from 13 state caucuses and primaries reveals a remarkably consistent portrait of the type of person who votes for a particular candidate. Their clashing priorities speak to the divided field this campaign season and may provide some insight into how Trump has managed to withstand attacks from the other presidential candidates.

"This election cycle is different than any in the past in being able to segment out voters by values, religion, wealth, jobs and any other characteristic," said Rory Cooper, managing director at the bipartisan Purple Strategies.

An 'outsider' who 'tells it like it is'

Donald Trump's voters brought up one value repeatedly and it wasn't prompted by any survey or poll.They said they wanted a candidate who could "tell it like it is."

"That's something that's unique to Trump," said Democratic strategist Margie Omero, "that seems to be working for them."

Trump voters told pollsters they want an outsider candidate who will speak his mind. Some live in rural areas and lack college degrees, but they all listed immigration issues whether it's barring Muslims from the United States or building a border wall with Mexico as the top issue in this election. They also decided very early on to vote for Trump.

"People know everything there is to know about Donald Trump at this point, he's got 100 percent name identification," said Cooper. "If you're a Donald Trump supporter, you are committed."

The values and life experiences of a Trump voter are on the other end of the spectrum from Marco Rubio supporters, many of whom decided to vote for the Florida senator at the last minute.They tend to value political experience, have college degrees and support legal status for immigrants in this country.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich draw their supporters from completely different fields, with Cruz pulling in evangelical voters looking for a candidate who shares their values while Kasich does well among people who expressly identify themselves as non-evangelicals and list the economy as the most important issue in this election.

Divided electorate helps Trump

Omero said the fractured electorate may have slowed attempts to bring down Trump's candidacy.

"People who vote for Trump have a very clear idea of what they like about him while there are more diffused explanations from voters as to why they're voting for Rubio or Cruz and it really underscores what we've seen that it's hard to get the Republican electorate coalesced around the not-Trump candidate," she said.

Voters may list widely differing values for their candidate of choice but a dig deeper into their responses shows potential for a shift to another candidate. Like Trump voters, Cruz supporters feel betrayed by the government and are concerned about immigration. Kasich voters value political experience along with Rubio voters and oppose a ban on Muslim immigration.

Those shared values may provide a pathway for a one-on-one race after next Tuesday's crucial votes in five states.

"If for some reason, it were to get down to Donald Trump and Ted Cruz," said Cooper, "I think that Ted Cruz is going to have a strong opportunity to collect more than 50 percent. I don't think every Rubio or Kasich voter will go to Cruz, but I think most of them will."

If Tuesday's results don't narrow the field, voters may see the divides in their values play out over the next few months and all the way to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.

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    Katherine Gypson

    Katherine Gypson is a reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C.  Prior to joining VOA in 2013, Katherine produced documentary and public affairs programming in Afghanistan, Tunisia and Turkey. She also produced and co-wrote a 12-episode road-trip series for Pakistani television exploring the United States during the 2012 presidential election. She holds a Master’s degree in Journalism from American University. Follow her @kgyp