Some highlights of preliminary data from exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks in the Florida presidential primary Tuesday:
IT'S THE MODERATES AGAINST THE CONSERVATIVES, AGAIN
Florida Republicans split based on ideology, with John McCain winning 4 in 10 moderates and Mitt Romney winning 4 in 10 conservatives. The same thing happened when McCain ran against George W. Bush in Florida in 2000, when McCain won moderates and Bush won conservatives. What's different this time is there are two more candidates splitting the vote, with Rudy Giuliani taking some moderates from McCain and Mike Huckabee taking some conservatives from Romney, leaving no one with a majority. And Romney has less crossover appeal with moderates than Bush had in 2000. In today's primary, McCain won among independents but couldn't beat Romney among Republicans.
STRAIGHT TALK OR THE RIGHT WALK?
When asked to choose among four candidate qualities as most important to their vote, more Florida Republican voters chose "shares my values" than any of the other three. More than one-third of values voters supported Romney, and one-fourth supported Huckabee. McCain won among those voters who favored a candidate who says what he believes, while the two front-runners split the vote of those who favored a candidate with the right experience. McCain won half the vote of those few Republicans looking for a candidate who has the best chance to win in November.
WHAT TO DO WITH ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS?
Just under 1 in 5 Republicans cited illegal immigration as the biggest problem facing the country, a group that voted strongly for Romney. The mostly non-Hispanic, white electorate favored deporting illegal immigrants to their country of origin by a 4-to-10 margin, with one-third favoring a temporary worker policy and one-fourth saying illegals should be allowed to apply for citizenship. Just 1 in 5 Hispanic voters favored deporting illegal immigrants. McCain, who co-sponsored a failed bipartisan immigration bill that was criticized by many Republicans as too lenient, was supported by half of Hispanic voters.
THE LITMUS TEST ISSUE
Republicans divided again on the abortion issue, with 6 in 10 anti-abortion Republicans supporting Romney and Huckabee, and about the same proportion of abortion-rights Republicans supporting McCain and Giuliani. Just over half of Republicans voting in Florida said abortion should be illegal at least in most cases, while 4 in 10 said abortion should mostly be legal. Born-again Christians, the base of Huckabee's support in earlier primaries, were splitting their votes about evenly among Huckabee, Romney and McCain.
ANGRY AT BUSH?
About one-third of Republicans in Florida said they had negative feelings about the Bush administration, including almost 1 in 10 who said they were angry at Bush. McCain won among Republicans who look negatively at the Bush years, and Romney wins among the majority of Republicans who look fondly upon the Bush administration.
RISING IMPORTANCE OF FALLING ECONOMY
Given four choices, nearly half of Florida Republican primary voters said the economy is the most important issue facing the country. Terrorism, Iraq and immigration each were picked by fewer than two in 10. The economy also was the top issue out of three choices for voters in the Democratic primary, which none of the candidates contested because of questions about whether Florida's Democratic delegates will be seated at the convention. The economy has been seen as increasingly important since the start of the 2008 presidential nomination season. McCain and Romney split the votes of Republican voters most concerned about the economy, with each getting more than one-third of their support. Clinton easily won the support of those Democrats who were most concerned about the issue.
MAYBE THEY LIKE THAT HE RESPECTS HIS MOTHER?
Senior citizens were the largest age group voting in the Republican primary, and they supported McCain over Romney by almost a 10-point margin. McCain is 71, and his 95-year-old mother has joined him on the campaign trail. Younger voters split more evenly between McCain and Romney, and the youngest of voters, those under 30, were one of the few groups among whom Huckabee was even competitive.
WELL, IF HE'S GOOD ENOUGH FOR THEM ...
Four in 10 Republican voters said Gov. Charlie Crist's endorsement of McCain was an important factor in their vote, a group that voted overwhelmingly for McCain. But Crist's endorsement may have been just the icing on the cake, as most of these voters also said they had made up their minds well ahead of Crist's weekend announcement. On the Democratic side, the endorsement of Barack Obama by several members of the Kennedy family was rated important by half of voters in that primary, but again most of those voters said they already had made up their minds by the time of the announcement Monday.
WILL RACE BE THE DOMINANT FACTOR FOR DEMOCRATS?
Many analysts are looking to the Democratic race in Florida to see whether a racial divide has opened after South Carolina's fractious fight. In Tuesday's primary, Obama took more than three-fourths of the black vote and one-fourth of the white vote, while Clinton won among whites but got only small share of the black vote. Black women supported Obama, while white women came out strongly for Clinton. Clinton even had a strong showing among white men, a group she lost to John Edwards in South Carolina.
From partial samples of 970 Republican primary voters and 989 Democratic primary voters conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International in 40 precincts across Florida on Tuesday. The samples include 235 Republican voters and 294 Democratic voters who voted early or absentee and were surveyed in the past week by telephone. Margin of sampling error plus or minus 4 percentage points for each primary.