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Poll: 95 percent of likely GOP primary voters are white

Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

According to a new Wall Street Journal /NBC News Poll, the voters who will pick the next Republican presidential nominee will likely be overwhelmingly white.

GOP electorate chart

In the poll, 95 percent of the respondents who said they were GOP primary voters were white. Remarkably, this is even less racially diverse than the American population as a whole was in 1916 — then, 91 percent of voting-age adults were white, writes pollster Jeff Horwitt.

Though these numbers don't separate out Hispanics — many of whom identify as white in polls — doing so would likely make little difference, since only about one-quarter of Hispanics identify as Republican or Republican-leaning.

Will a message aimed at winning nonwhites be effective in the primaries?

These lopsided numbers are no surprise — according to the Roper Center, only about 18 percent of nonwhite voters voted for Romney in 2012. But the poll provides a notable reminder that a party trying to increase its appeal to nonwhite voters will have its standard-bearer chosen almost entirely by whites.

Several GOP presidential hopefuls recognize this problem, and are already trying to present a message that will appeal to nonwhite or traditionally Democratic voters. "Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker," Jeb Bush said in 2013, adding that "those voters feel unloved, unwanted, and unwelcome." Rand Paul, for his part, is launching a major outreach effort aimed at African Americans.

But if this poll is any indication, few nonwhite voters currently intend to vote in the GOP primaries. So unless Bush or Paul can inspire them to turn out — or unless their arguments affect white voters' perception of their likelihood of winning a general election — a campaign appealing to white voters could be more likely to catch on. In January, Slate's Jamelle Bouie argued that Scott Walker might pursue such a campaign.

It's worth remembering the important influence party elites have on the primary process, though. The GOP establishment surely wants a candidate who can win in November 2016 and take back the White House. So if Jeb Bush or someone else convincingly argues that he can win over nonwhite voters, the party could decide to try to help him through the primaries.

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