WASHINGTON — The economy is weighing heavily on voters' minds from north to south, even as Super Tuesday is showcasing vastly different slices of the Republican electorate, according to early exit polls conducted for The Associated Press in seven states. From more moderate Massachusetts and Vermont to more conservative states such as Oklahoma and Tennessee, the economy was the top issue.
TOP ISSUES: The economy is the number one issue for voters in every Super Tuesday state polled, according to early results from exit polls. In Vermont and Massachusetts, voters overwhelmingly cited the economy as their top issue with almost 6 in 10 voters in Massachusetts and most voters in Vermont citing it as a top issue. That was also true in southern and more conservative states, though more there expressed concern about the deficit. In Tennessee, Oklahoma and Virginia, more than 3 in 10 called the federal budget deficit their top issue. In Tennessee, a large number of voters had misgivings about the federal government. Four in 10 voters in the state said they were angry with the way the federal government is working, according to early exit polls.
IDEOLOGICAL DIVIDE: Tuesday's votes showcased different parts of the GOP base.
In the Northeast, more moderate Republicans headed to the polls. Vermont's electorate is the only state where exit or entrance polls have been conducted thus far in the nominating contest in which a majority of Republican voters were moderate or liberal. In contrast, Oklahoma voters are among the most conservative to vote yet. Nearly half of that state's voters identified themselves as "very" conservative — outpacing that group's share of the vote in Oklahoma in both 2008 and 2000.
RELIGIOUS VOTERS: In Tennessee, preliminary results from an exit poll there found 7 in 10 identified themselves as born-again Christians. In Oklahoma, three-quarters of voters identified themselves as born again. In both states, that's more than in any state voting before today with exit or entrance polls. About three-quarters in Tennessee said it mattered at least somewhat that a candidate shares their religious beliefs.
BEATING OBAMA: The Super Tuesday states vary greatly in terms of ideology, but the desire to beat President Barack Obama is universal. The ability to defeat Obama is the quality most frequently cited as central to voters' decisions, according to early exit poll results. In Ohio, one of Tuesday's most hotly contested primaries, about 4 in 10 called a candidate's ability to defeat Obama the most important quality guiding their decisions. In Virginia, about half of voters prioritized choosing a candidate who could defeat Obama in November.
HOME STATES: Nearly half the voters in former Gov. Mitt Romney's home state of Massachusetts said the state's 2006 health care overhaul went too far. About 4 in 10 said the changes from that law were about right, according to early exit poll results. Massachusetts voters weren't necessarily persuaded to vote for Romney based on his ties to the state — less than half in early exit polling said his ties to the state mattered somewhat or more to their vote.
For former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, home state advantage was a big factor in Georgia. Gingrich was winning around three-fourths of the votes of Georgia Republicans saying his relationship to the state affected their vote, according to early results from the survey. Around 6 in 10 said that mattered little to them, and those voters were divided roughly evenly among Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
The Georgia survey was conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks by Edison Research as voters left 30 selected polling places in the state. The Georgia poll involved interviews with 1,705 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.