July 18, 2016

Republican voters’ path to backing Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s rise to become the Republican Party’s presidential nominee followed a lengthy primary campaign. Over the course of 2015 and early 2016, most GOP voters switched their preferences for the nomination at least once – and many switched several times. Below you can explore how candidates gained (and lost) supporters among the same nationally representative group of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters in Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel. Walk through Donald Trump’s path to the nomination or explore each of the GOP candidates’ paths on your own. And for more on the patterns of support through the primary, and into the general election, see For GOP Voters, a Winding Path to a Trump Nomination.

» Republican voters’ path to backing Donald Trump
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March 2015
Aug. 2015
Dec. 2015
April 2016
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June 2016

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Early stages

In March 2015, 37% of Republican voters did not have a first choice for the GOP nomination. Just 1% named Donald Trump, who had not yet announced his candidacy.

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Trump’s entry

By August 2015, Trump was the preferred choice of 27% of Republican voters. About a third of his August supporters had not backed anyone in March. He also pulled support from most of the other candidates in the race: 15% of his backers had previously supported Scott Walker, 9% previously supported Jeb Bush and 8% previously supported Ted Cruz.

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Trump gains support, but also loses some

Trump‘s support grew in December 2015 to 34% of GOP voters. Roughly half of his supporters at that time had backed him in August. At the same time, not all of Trump‘s August supporters had stayed with him; 30% of those who had backed him in August did not in December.

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Field narrows, but voters’ preferences still shifting

As the field narrowed to Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, Trump led all candidates with the support of 44% of GOP voters. About six-in-ten of his backers supported him in December, but some voters switched their allegiances during this period. For example: 6% of Trump‘s backers in April 2016 had supported Cruz in December 2015, and 14% of Cruz‘s April supporters had previously supported Trump.

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‘Never Trump?’

After Cruz and Kasich ended their campaigns in early May, Trump became the presumptive nominee and most supporters of other candidates got on board. As of June 2016, Trump became the choice of 88% of Republican voters in a general election matchup against Hillary Clinton.

1% of Republican voters named Trump their first choice in March 2015.

27% of Republican voters named Trump their first choice in August 2015.

34% of Republican voters named Trump their first choice in December 2015.

44% of Republican voters named Trump their first choice in April 2016.

88% of Republican voters named Trump their first choice in the general election.

Source: Pew Research Center American Trends Panel surveys, conducted March 2015 through June 2016. Based on Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters (March & August 2015, N=1,345; December 2015, April and June 2016 N=2,079). See methodology for more detail.

Photo credits: Michael Vadon/Wikimedia Commons (Trump, Cruz, Kasich, Bush, Christie); Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons (Rubio); Darren McCollester/Getty Images (Huckabee); Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images (Carson); Christopher Furlong/Getty Images (Paul); Scott Olson/Getty Images (Walker); Robyn BeckAFP/Getty Images (Fiorina)

Early stages

In March 2015, 37% of Republican voters did not have a first choice for the GOP nomination. Just 1% named Donald Trump, who had not yet announced his candidacy.

Trump’s entry

By August 2015, Trump was the preferred choice of 27% of Republican voters. About a third of his August supporters had not backed anyone in March. He also pulled support from most of the other candidates in the race: 15% of his backers had previously supported Scott Walker, 9% previously supported Jeb Bush and 8% previously supported Ted Cruz.

Trump gains support, but also loses some

Trump’s support grew in December 2015 to 34% of GOP voters. Roughly half of his supporters at that time had backed him in August. At the same time, not all of Trump’s August supporters had stayed with him; 30% of those who had backed him in August did not in December.

Field narrows, but voters’ preferences still shift

As the field narrowed to Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, Trump led all candidates with the support of 44% of GOP voters. About six-in-ten of his backers supported him in December, but some voters switched their allegiances during this period. For example: 6% of Trump’s backers in April 2016 had supported Cruz in December 2015, and 14% of Cruz’s April supporters had previously supported Trump.

‘Never Trump?’

After Cruz and Kasich ended their campaigns in early May, Trump became the presumptive nominee and most supporters of other candidates got on board. As of June 2016, Trump became the choice of 88% of Republican voters in a general election matchup against Hillary Clinton.

Source: Pew Research Center American Trends Panel surveys, conducted March 2015 through June 2016. Based on Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters (March & August 2015, N=1,345; December 2015, April and June 2016 N=2,079). See methodology for more detail.