Early exits: Twice as many want "strong leadership" as in 2012

Early exit polls: can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. Politico gives a flavor of what we can expect with an early look at the exit polls’ first iteration, which by its nature is incomplete and non-predictive. In this case, the meaning of the data may be even more ambiguous than usual:

More voters this year are looking for a strong leader than in previous presidential elections, according to an early morning exit poll, whose results could shift significantly over the course of Election Day. ..

Asked what characteristic is most important for the next president, 36 percent of voters say they want a “strong leader,” 29 percent want “a vision for the future,” 16 percent want someone who “cares about people like me” and another 16 percent said they want someone who “shares my values.”

The percentage of voters thus far who say they want a strong leader – a characterization Donald Trump’s team made central to his campaign – is twice the percentage who said they were looking for a strong leader in the 2012 National Election Pool exit poll.

True, but both campaigns have made that argument. They’ve just made it on different points. Trump has highlighted his business success to argue that only his leadership will bring real change to Washington DC, while Hillary Clinton argues that her experience shows that she has the temperament for strong leadership, and that Trump utterly lacks it. The takeaway from this may be more that these voters have been disappointed in the leadership they’ve seen over the past four years — and if that’s the case, then it might benefit Trump. Assuming, of course, that the afternoon exit polls don’t produce a different result.

Even if that holds up, that’s a thin reed on which to hang one’s hopes. The higher percentage of people voting on the basis of leadership may well be a default from other options in the polling. Thirty-two percent split evenly between “cares about people like me” and “shares my values,” which may be more surprisingly high than having 36% of  voters choose the top leadership on their assessment of, y’know, leadership. Which candidate shares voters values and cares about people like themselves — the multi-billionaire who spent his entire adult life making his name synonymous with jet-set privilege, or the woman who exploited her connections to power and influence to make herself fabulously rich while accomplishing nearly nothing of note? Don’t all answer at once …

While folks ponder that, here’s a bracing note from CNN on demographics, which we won’t see from the exits until after polls begin closing at 6 pm. Pew estimates that the percentage of white voters will decline to its lowest level in presidential elections, which is why it was so urgent for the Republican Party to engage with Hispanic and African-American communities on the ground, addressing their concerns with solid policy proposals and opportunities to prosper. If Pew’s predictions turn out to be accurate, get ready for another autopsy from the RNC. Meanwhile, the one data point that on which we all can rely:

Eighty-five percent of voters say they “just want it to be over,” while 72 percent are “anxious” and 71 percent are “nervous.”