The Candidates' Attributes
Much of the campaign focused on the candidates’ personal qualities. Both reached record levels of unpopularity, with sharp divisions on their fitness for office on items including qualifications, temperament and honesty.
In preliminary national exit poll results, 54 percent of voters see Clinton unfavorably and 61 percent say the same of Trump. Comparable numbers in 2012 were 46 for Barack Obama and 50 for Mitt Romney.
Substantial numbers also say both Clinton and Trump are not honest and trustworthy -- 59 percent in Clinton’s case and 65 percent in Trump’s. It’s unprecedented even to ask this question in an exit poll.
Clinton does better, Trump less well, on both qualifications and temperament. Fifty-three percent of voters say she’s qualified for office and 56 percent feel she has the right personality and temperament for the job. Those decline to 37 percent and 34 percent for Trump, respectively, in these preliminary exit poll results.
Trump's Treatment of Women and Clinton's Emails
Trump’s treatment of women and Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state have been highly controversial issues.
In preliminary exit poll results, 51 percent of voters say Trump’s treatment of women bothers them a lot, while fewer, 44 percent, say the same about the situation regarding Clinton’s emails. (Note: Interviews representing as much as 40 percent of the national exit poll were conducted in advance of the FBI’s announcement Sunday that it’s renewed review found nothing to warrant criminal charges against Clinton.)
Anxiety and Dislike
Given their unpopularity, Clinton and Trump alike are seeing lukewarm support -- including many voters who chiefly oppose their opponent rather than supporting them. This is especially so in Trump’s case, and far different from what we saw in 2012, when 70 percent of Obama’s voters strongly supported him, as did 60 percent of Romney’s, compared to only 10 percent who voted against their candidate’s opponent.
Many voters express concern about a Clinton or Trump presidency, and excitement is subdued. Seventeen percent are excited about the prospect of a Clinton presidency, while 29 percent are downright scared about it. On the flip side, just 13 percent are excited about a possible Trump presidency in preliminary exit poll results; 37 percent, scared of it.
The divisions are profound. Among Clinton supporters, 72 percent are scared of Trump in office; among Trump voters, 60 percent are scared of what Clinton would do.
Previous positive and negative anticipation peaked in 2008, when 37 percent of voters were excited about an Obama presidency and 33 percent were scared about McCain.
When Voters Made Their Decisions
When did voters make their decision? Despite the frantic finish and a series of major events near the end of the race, 75 percent of voters say they decided on their vote more than a month ago. Still, 24 percent of voters say they made their choice in the last month. They’ll both be important groups to watch as the night goes on.
State of the Country
Whatever their divisions, many voters share a sense of frustration with the political situation. Sixty-one percent of voters in preliminary exit poll results say the country’s on the wrong track. That’s similar to its level in 2012 when Barack Obama won re-election, and down from 75 percent in 2008 at the peak of the economic crisis, but well above its level from 1996 to 2004.
Sixty-nine percent are dissatisfied with the way the government is working, including 23 percent who are angry about it -- a sentiment especially prevalent among Trump voters. And 49 percent say the government’s doing too many things best left to individuals and business, similar to most previous elections.
Clinton and Trump voters are vastly different on these measures, with Clinton’s much more positive and Trump’s much more negative. For example, 92 percent of Trump’s supporters feel the country’s on the wrong track and 88 percent are dissatisfied with the how the government’s working, or angry about it.
On the Economy
The state of the economy relates to these sentiments. Eight years on from the Great Recession, 62 percent of voters in preliminary exit poll results still rate the economy negatively -- “not good” or “poor.” Still, that’s well down from 76 percent in 2012 and a vast 93 percent in 2008.
Thirty percent say their family’s financial situation has improved in the last four years, but about as many, 27 percent, say it’s gotten worse. (The rest say it’s about the same.) It’s the first time “better” has outnumbered “worse” on this question since 2004, and also the lowest “getting worse” result since 2000.
Expectations, still not great, also are better than they’ve been: In preliminary results, 37 percent of voters think the next generation will be worse off, but 33 percent think it will be better off, again the least negative differential since 2000. Again pessimism is far higher among Trump supporters.
Integrity of the Vote
Just 28 percent of Trump voters say they’re very confident their votes will be counted accurately vs. 68 percent of Clinton voters. There was no partisan gap on this question when it was asked in the 2008 exit poll, and the division this year is bigger even than the one between Kerry and Bush voters in 2004, after the contentious 2000 election.
On the Issues
Preliminary exit poll results indicate that the economy/jobs is the top issue for voters (52 percent), followed by terrorism (18 percent), foreign policy (13 percent) and immigration (12 percent). There’s a big difference, though by candidate support, with Clinton’s supporters relatively more focused on the economy and foreign policy, Trump’s on terrorism and immigration.
Many more voters say undocumented immigrants should be given a path to citizenship or be deported (71 percent vs. 25 percent). And more oppose rather than support one of Trump’s signature policies, building a wall along Mexican border (54 percent vs. 40 percent) in preliminary exit poll results. Not surprisingly, Clinton and Trump voters differ widely on these immigration policy issues.
Also, 9 percent of voters were not born in the United States, group to watch in later results.
The Obama Factor
Fifty-four percent of voters approve of the job Obama is doing as president, 34 percent strongly so in preliminary exit poll results. That may help Clinton, but it’s no guarantee: In 2000, a robust 57 percent approved of Bill Clinton’s job performance when Al Gore tried unsuccessfully to follow him.
Slightly more voters think the next president should continue Obama’s policies (29 percent) or change to more liberal ones (18 percent). Forty-six percent say the next president’s policies should be more conservative that Obama’s.
Turnout among key groups is critical. ABC News/Washington Post pre-election polls indicated that, apart from partisanship and ideology, Clinton’s success is dependent on turnout among women, college-educated whites (especially college-educated white women), nonwhites and young voters. Trump needs turnout from men, whites overall, non-college whites (especially non-college white men) and evangelical white Christians.
Turnout and vote margins among these groups will be worth watching tonight
Early turnout across partisan lines looks quite similar to 2012, 37 percent Democrats, 32 percent Republicans.
On race, whites could be slightly down -- 70 percent in preliminary exit poll results, 30 percent nonwhite, including 12 percent black and 11 percent Hispanic.
Women outnumber men in 2016 early results, as they have since 1984. If the gender gap that was evident in pre-election polling holds tonight, it’ll be an advantage for Clinton.
Early exit poll results also show a record level of turnout among college-educated voters, 50 percent vs. 50 percent non-college voters. Again, these are early results, but it’s worth keeping an eye on and would be another Clinton advantage if it holds.
Following on this, college-educated white women currently outnumber non-college white women (20 percent vs. 17 percent), which also would be a first in exit polls. College-educated white women are by far Clinton’s strongest group among whites. There’s no indication in early results of increased turnout among non-college whites, Trump’s core group.
White evangelical Christians make up 27 percent of voters in preliminary exit poll results, similar to 2012, and a very strong group for Trump in pre-election polling.
Here's an explanation about how exit polling works, how they're conducted and what kind of questions are asked: Vote 2016: How Exit Polls Work