Ohio GOP voters’ support for Trump likely boosted his pick in Senate primary, exit poll suggests

Ohio Republican primary voters’ broad support for Donald Trump may have helped propel his preferred candidate, businessman Bernie Moreno, to victory in the state’s GOP Senate primary Tuesday, according to the results of CNN’s exit poll in the state.

The vast majority of Republican primary voters, more than 7 in 10, said it was at least somewhat important that the next senator in Ohio support the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. And that group broke heavily for the Trump-backed candidate, the exit poll found, with about 60% casting their vote for Moreno.

By contrast, among the minority of voters who called loyalty to Trump unimportant, nearly two-thirds backed state Sen. Matt Dolan – the only one of the three GOP candidates in the race who had not explicitly endorsed the former president. The third candidate, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, trailed his rivals among both groups of voters.

Tuesday’s primary was this year’s first direct test of Trump’s endorsement power in a contested Senate race. Moreno will next take on Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in a race that could shape the balance of power in the Senate. The three-term incumbent is one of two Senate Democrats running for reelection in a state that Trump twice carried.

Voters who said they decided their Senate vote in the final week of the campaign favored Dolan over Moreno by a modest margin, while Moreno won those who said they’d made up their minds earlier in 2024 or sometime last year. Trump backed Moreno in December and appeared at a rally with him over the weekend.

Ohio Republican primary voters’ embrace of Trump’s worldview goes beyond their support for the candidate he endorsed. Roughly 8 in 10 said they approved of Trump’s job performance when he was in the White House, with close to two-thirds saying they expect that, if he returns to the Oval Office, a second Trump term would be better than his first. About two-thirds also said they’d consider Trump fit for office even if he’s convicted of a crime. And only about 3 in 10 acknowledged that President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election was legitimate.

Those results echo entrance and exit polls in Republican presidential contests earlier this year in underscoring the extent to which the GOP electorate has molded itself around Trump’s influence. The Senate result in Ohio also highlights the rift between the GOP base and the much smaller faction of the party that remains at least somewhat resistant to the former president’s election falsehoods. Roughly 6 in 10 election deniers supported Moreno, while Dolan won a similar share of the smaller group who acknowledged the results of the 2020 contest. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Exit polls are a valuable tool to help understand primary voters’ demographic profile and political views. Like all surveys, however, exit polls are estimates, not precise measurements of the electorate. That’s particularly true for this preliminary set of exit poll numbers, which hasn’t yet been weighted to match the final results of the primary. But the results provide a glimpse of the types of voters turning out.

Roughly 4 in 10 voters in Ohio’s GOP Senate primary said that the Republican Party as a whole is about right ideologically, with more than one-third calling the party insufficiently conservative, and just under one-fifth saying it is too conservative. Moreno won the former two groups, with Dolan leading among those who called the party too conservative.

Close to three-quarters of Ohio GOP primary voters said that undocumented immigrants in the US should be deported, rather than being offered a chance to apply for legal status. Ohio GOP primary voters were also more likely than not to favor a nationwide ban on most or all abortions – a position that was opposed by a majority of GOP presidential primary voters in California, Virginia and New Hampshire.

Few Ohio GOP primary voters described the nation’s economy as excellent or good, but most, about 70%, said that they were holding steady or getting ahead financially. About 9 in 10 said they were unhappy with the way things are going in the US, with nearly half describing themselves as angry about the state of the nation.

The exit poll for Ohio’s Republican primaries was conducted by Edison Research on behalf of the National Election Pool. It includes 1,813 interviews with Republican primary voters, including both election day voters and those who voted early or absentee. Election day interviews were conducted across 30 different polling places on election day, while pre-election interviews were conducted March 8-16 using telephone, email and text messaging to reach respondents selected from the voter file. Results for the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points; it is larger for subgroups.

This story and headline have been updated with additional information.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com