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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 10:47 AM ET, 03/14/2012

Exit polls: Santorum wins Alabama and Mississippi

Rick Santorum’s southern sweep in Alabama and Mississippi was propelled by voters eager for a candidate with “strong moral character” or “a true conservative.” About four in 10 voters in both Alabama and Mississippi picked one of these two as the most important attribute they were looking for in a candidate, and Santorum won close to six in 10 of them.

Romney ran fairly close in Mississippi, but half of voters in each state considered him to be insufficiently conservative on the issues, according to exit polls. Romney lost by double-digits to Santorum among “very conservative” voters in both states and in Alabama among strong backers of the tea party political movement.

Romney remained competitive because, once again, he was seen as the candidate most able to beat President Obama in the general election. Close to four in 10 voters in both Alabama and Mississippi called this the most important attribute, and he won about half of their votes. But at least as many voters prioritized moral character or conservative bona fides, pushing Santorum ahead.

Gingrich ran close as well, but his appeal to fiscally minded voters was not enough. A quarter of voters said the federal budget deficit was their top voting issue and Gingrich beat Santorum and Romney in this segment in each state. He also drew big support from those looking for the candidate with “the right experience,” winning 51 percent of these voters in Alabama and 59 percent in Mississippi. Unfortunately for Gingrich, just one in five voters picked experience as the most important candidate attribute.

Evangelical turnout: Mississippi and Alabama finished off as the most heavily evangelical states this primary season, with turnout at 83 and 80 percent in each state. Santorum’s winning margin among evangelicals was smaller than in Tennessee last week, but his 36 percent support was enough to lock in victory.

Abortion and religiously focused voters: Abortion was a down-ballot issue for nearly nine in 10 primary voters in both Alabama and Mississippi, but Santorum won by a big margin among opponents of legal abortion. About one in three Alabama voters said abortion should be illegal in all cases, and Santorum won nearly half of their votes, outpacing his nearest competitor by 20 points. Slightly fewer voters in Mississippi said abortion should always be illegal, but Santorum also won by double digits.

At least three quarters of voters in both states said it was important that candidates share their own religious beliefs, including 78 percent of voters in Mississippi, the highest in exit polls this year. As he has in other recent contests, Santorum did particularly well among those who said religious beliefs mattered “a great deal,” winning them by double digits in both contests.

Gender Gap: Turnout among women voters ticked up in each state, from 47 percent as a share of the electorate in 2008 to 50 and 50 percent in Alabama and Mississippi, respectively. Santorum led the pack among women voters in both states, with 38 percent in Alabama and 35 percent in Mississippi. Women who are employed full-time were one of Santorum’s best voting groups in Alabama, where he won 49 percent support to 23 for Gingrich and 20 for Romney.

Young voters: Ron Paul’s lock on voters under age 30 eroded in Alabama and Mississippi, where he spent very little time campaigning. What had been one of his consistently best groups went to Santorum. He won the support of 41 percent in Alabama and 45 percent in Mississippi.

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By , and  |  10:47 AM ET, 03/14/2012

Categories:  Exit polls, GOP nomination

 
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