What is up with West Virginia Democrats? Eight years ago, Hillary Clinton won every single county on the way to a 2-to-1 victory over Barack Obama. This year she lost every single county and got trounced by Bernie Sanders.
Well, here’s the thing. Many of those voters aren’t really Democrats at all – at least not by any standards we would call a Democrat in the rest of the country. While Democrats are still competitive for statewide office there, West Virginia has been solidly red in presidential elections for more than a decade.
In fact, the exit poll included two questions about the November election pitting Donald Trump against either Clinton or Sanders. According to results shown on MSNBC’s primary night coverage, nearly 3-in-10 of these Democratic primary voters actually said they will vote for Trump in either match-up.
Let that sink in. Three-in-ten voters who just cast a ballot in the Democratic primary said they would be voting for Trump in November regardless of “their” party’s nominee. For the record, most of these Trump supporters voted for Sanders over Clinton – 60% to 12%, with another 28% of these mischief-makers voting for one of the largely unknown other names on the ballot.
These Trump supporters who took part in the Democratic primary are more likely than others to be from coal mining households (53%), more likely to be very worried about the nation’s economy (81%), and more likely to want the next president to be less liberal than Obama (69%). The latter question has been asked in every exit poll this season and this is the only place where that many voters in a Democratic primary said they want to move in a less liberal direction!
These voters are most likely “legacy” Democrat. They belong to the party as it exists in West Virginia, but they disdain the Democratic brand on the national stage. It’s not that they like Bernie Sanders, but it’s more likely that they really detest Hillary Clinton. If these voters did not participate in the presidential primary, we would have likely seen an extremely close margin between Sanders and Clinton rather than Sanders’s 15 point win.
And this may not be the strangest West Virginia outcome in the past few cycles. Remember that four years ago, a convicted felon who was incarcerated in Texas at the time got 41% of the Democratic primary vote against Obama.
So, let’s just mark the West Virginia primary down as one strange footnote to a very strange primary season.