Analysis: Haley’s Georgia voters likely to follow party’s lead, vote Trump

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley tallied about 77,000 votes in Georgia's presidential primary earlier tis month. Some political scientists say those voters are likely to vote in November for former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee — if they vote for president at all. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr, File)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley tallied about 77,000 votes in Georgia's presidential primary earlier tis month. Some political scientists say those voters are likely to vote in November for former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee — if they vote for president at all. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr, File)

In her bid to be the Republican nominee for president, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley drew votes from both Democratic and Republican voters as she positioned herself as an alternative to former President Donald Trump and a more-likely candidate to defeat President Joe Biden.

With Haley out of the race, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of votes cast in the March 12 presidential primary found no clear evidence of whom the majority of Haley supporters likely will support in November. But some political scientists say those voters are likely to vote for Trump — if they vote for president at all.

“By and large, the No. 1 factor when we consider vote intentions is partisanship,” said Jeffrey Glas, a lecturer in the political science department at the University of Georgia. “I think those Nikki Haley supporters are as likely to vote for Donald Trump as to not vote, and I suspect those are both more likely than voting for Joe Biden in 2024.”

Cross-party approval ratings — that is, approval of one party’s president by supporters of the opposing party — have decreased since 2008. While 14% of Republicans approved of former President Barack Obama after his second term, just 7% of Republicans approve of Biden, according to the Pew Research Center. From Democrats, Biden’s current ratings are also lower than Obama’s while in office.

Cami Nail, a Fulton County volunteer for Haley’s campaign, is not enthusiastic about Trump being the Republican nominee, but she still plans to vote for him in November.

“Would I love to have a candidate that doesn’t have the baggage that this candidate has? Absolutely,” she said. “There’s no perfect candidate, so you have to go with who will support the majority of your values.”

A large share of voters polled are unhappy with Trump, and many may choose to sit out the election instead of voting for Biden. In Virginia, a state with an open primary like Georgia’s, 95% of about 1,700 Haley voters who responded said they would be dissatisfied if Trump wins the nomination, according to an exit poll by CNN.

Tom Bell, chairman of the real estate investment firm Mesa Capital Partners, endorsed Haley and donated to her campaign. He did not vote for Trump or Biden in 2020 and said that he would not vote for either candidate in the general election.

“The way I look at it, I’m a real Republican, and the Republican Party that (Trump’s) created is something very different from what I subscribe to,” he said.

It is unclear how many of Haley’s 77,000 Georgia voters are Democrats likely to vote for Biden in November. Roughly 19,000 voters in the Republican primary this year cast a ballot in the 2020 Democratic primary. If all 19,000 of these voters cast a ballot for Haley, they would account for one quarter of her votes, leaving the remaining majority as probable Trump supporters or those who plan to abstain.

Further, some of these 19,000 votes from 2020 Democratic voters may be canceled out in the general election by voters with a history of voting Republican who cast Democratic ballots in this primary. There were about 7,500 voters in this year’s Democratic primary who voted in the 2020 Republican primary. These crossover voters account for 3% of the votes in each primary.

Other indications of Haley’s Democratic base come from her vote share. Some of the areas where Haley’s vote share is highest — such as Atlanta, Athens and Savannah — voted for Biden in the 2020 election. Haley won her highest vote share in DeKalb and Fulton counties, where combined she had about 15,000 votes.

An AJC analysis of political donations to the Haley campaign provides more insight into what her supporters might do in November.

Haley’s campaign attracted more than four times as many former Trump donors than donors who contributed to Biden four years ago. More than 380 Georgia donors who gave money to Trump in the 2020 election donated to Haley’s campaign this election cycle. Just 80 of Biden’s 2020 Georgia donors gave money to Haley’s campaign this time around. Over 8% of all of Haley’s campaign contributions from Georgia came from donors who donated to Trump’s 2020 campaign, totaling roughly $160,000. Just 2% of her donations came from prior Biden donors, totaling about $36,000.

More than 100 Georgians — or 2% of Haley’s donors — have donated to both Haley and Trump in this election so far. Just 12 Georgia residents donated to both Haley and Biden in this election, according to an AJC analysis of Haley’s most recent fundraising report with the Federal Election Commission. The report catalogs donors who give at least $200 and does not represent her fundraising from super PACs and joint fundraising committees.

Leah Aldridge, president of Women Lead Right, sacrificed both her time and money to Haley’s campaign — donating and traveling as a volunteer to New Hampshire and South Carolina. She told the AJC that her vote is Trump’s to lose and that she will not vote for Biden.

Disappointed at Haley’s truncated run for office, Aldridge believes the former candidate’s influence is far from over.

“I don’t believe Nikki Haley is going to be a footnote in history,” she said.

This story has been updated to correct an error in the number of donors who donated both to Haley and Biden.