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Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
Bob Belew, a coach at Sylvan Park Elementary School in Nashville, Tenn., welcomes students and voters at a polling place at the school, on Tuesday, March 6, 2012.

WASHINGTON — Ohio Republicans are overwhelmingly upset with the federal government and deeply worried about the direction of the national economy, according to early results of an exit poll of voters in the state's GOP presidential primary.

Of the 10 states holding Super Tuesday Republican presidential contests, Ohio was seen as the day's key battleground because it stood as one of the best chances that former Pennsylvania Sen Rick Santorum had in a major state of slowing Mitt Romney's drive toward the GOP nomination. Ohio is historically crucial for GOP chances of capturing the White House.

Nearly 9 in 10 Ohio Republicans said they were dissatisfied with the way the federal government is working, including almost 4 in 10 who said they were very unhappy about it.

In addition, practically every Ohio GOP voter said he or she is nervous about where the nation's economy seems headed over the next few years, including about three-quarters who said they are very worried.

While almost two-thirds of the state's voters said they are conservative, more said their views are conservative on fiscal issues like taxes than on social issues such as abortion.

Exit polls were conducted in seven of the 10 states voting Tuesday, sampling groups of GOP voters ranging from the most moderate in Vermont and Massachusetts to the most conservative and religious in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

On two subjects, voters in each of the states voting Tuesday had the same view.

Given a choice of four issues, Republicans in every state named the economy as the one that most concerns them. Given four qualities to look for in a candidate, the one cited most often was an ability to defeat President Barack Obama in November's general election.

Seven in 10 Tennessee voters consider themselves to be born-again or evangelical Christians, more than any state surveyed so far in this year's GOP presidential voting. About three-fourths of Tennessee voters said it was very important that a candidate share their religious beliefs.

Of the state's voting Tuesday, Massachusetts had the smallest share of born-again or evangelical voters, fewer than 1 in 5.

In Virginia, where only Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul were on Tuesday's ballot, about 1 in 3 voters said they would have supported a different candidate if others had also been listed.

Only in Georgia and Oklahoma did a majority say Tuesday that they voted for their candidate because they strongly supported him. In the other five states, most voters said they had reservations about their contender or voted for him because they disliked the other choices.

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The Ohio survey was conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks by Edison Research as voters left 40 selected polling places in the state. The Ohio poll involved interviews with 1,848 voters and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Edison Research also conducted interviews at randomly chosen polling places in Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

AP News survey specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.