Early exit polls highlight at least one key takeaway about this year’s midterms so far: This election was about President Donald Trump.
More than two-thirds of midterm voters say that their actions this election were tied to their attitudes toward the Trump presidency, according to a survey from CNN. In that same poll, 26 percent of voters said they backed Trump, while 39 percent opposed him. Both CNN and NBC News also found that almost half of voters strongly disapproved of the job Trump is doing.
Exit polls are conducted by various organizations including media outlets after voters have left the ballot box, offering a snapshot of how people voted in certain races — and where they stand on particular issues. Because of their immediacy and the access they have to actual voters, exit polls can offer some of the most accurate information about the demographics of the electorate and people’s stances on different policy areas.
As Vox’s Emily Stewart and Dara Lind report, however, exit polls can only tell us so much since they’re highly dependent on the voter pool that outlets are able to survey. In 2016, for example, some early exit polls suggested that Hillary Clinton was on track for a win, even though she eventually ended up losing to Trump.
As such, exit polls can provide a signal of where races are headed (and are often used to make such projections) — but they shouldn’t be taken as the end-all and be-all.
What the exit polls say about key issues
In addition to offering some insights on voters’ perspectives of Trump, the exit polls thus far have also reaffirmed just how much health care has been a driving issue during this election.
According to the CNN poll, 40 percent of voters called out health care as the issue they saw as most important this cycle and 70 percent agreed that the country’s health care system needed significant changes. This data matches up with how Democrats have framed their campaigns this cycle — hammering the issue of health care and the role that Republican incumbents have played in backing a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Voters also said that the economy, immigration, and gun control were among the top areas they were considering in this year’s election, according to the CNN poll.
On the issue of immigration, CNN’s poll found that roughly fifty percent of voters felt that Trump’s approach to immigration was too tough, and about a third considered it just right.
It’s a perception the White House has already pushed back on. “The President’s message on immigration is resonating and as we saw in 2016 I don’t think the polls reflect that,” one official told CNN.
An overwhelming seventy-five percent of voters said they saw violent extremism as a key consideration at the ballot box as well.
A big chunk of people said this was their first time voting in a midterm
Early exit polls showed that a sizable percentage of voters were participating in a midterm election for the first time. Sixteen percent of those surveyed indicated that they were first-time midterm voters.
Additionally, one in four Latino voters indicated that it was their first midterm election, compared to about one in five African American voters and one in ten white voters, NBC News notes.
Democrats have long looked to Latino voters to help flip seats in states like Arizona, California and Texas. This data suggests that there could be a possible surge in Latino voter turnout this year, although a similarly expected increase failed to materialize in 2016.
Voters have also signaled a concern with growing polarization across the U.S. Three-quarters of voters in the CNN poll said that the country was becoming more politically divided.
Voters support the election of more women and minorities
A groundbreaking number of women and people of color could join Congress this cycle and voters appear to heavily favor such increases.
Nearly eighty percent of voters said it was very or somewhat important for more women to be elected to public office, while 70 percent of voters said the same about electing more minority lawmakers, according to CNN.
There are some important caveats about how these polls should be interpreted
It’s worth reiterating that exit polling — much like polling in general — doesn’t offer a definitive picture of exactly what’s happening.
It does capture, however, attitudes among voters on Election Day. And these surveys can ultimately help offer an explanation of why certain candidates end up winning.
We’ll be tracking these exit polls throughout the night as more information rolls in about how exactly midterm voters viewed their decisions this time around.