Republican primary voters may be willing to check their conservative convictions at the door, if it means defeating President Obama, according to newly compiled polling data.
According to a new report by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), GOP voters are picking their second or third choice, Mitt Romney, for the utility of ensuring Obama does not enter a second term.
AEI public opinion expert Karlyn Bowman and researcher Andrew Rugg have taken the entrance and exit poll data from the 17 states where it was available and offered the first comprehensive compilation of the information.
According to the data, Republicans--and especially the activists who turn out to vote in caucuses and primaries--are concerned more with defeating Obama than any other factor in casting their vote, even eschewing their “true conservative-conviction response,” said Bowman.
In all but South Carolina and Georgia, voters thought Romney would be the candidate most likely to fulfill that goal.
However, among those who prioritized “true conservative” as the quality most important in a candidate, Romney was the top candidate only in Massachusetts, where he served as governor. And for those who selected “moral character” as the most important quality, Romney ranks first in only three states.
“The response is not a strong endorsement for Romney especially for voters in a party whose members in overwhelming numbers call themselves conservative, said Bowman, adding, “They don’t yet see him as one of them.”
Other findings of the report include:
* Tea party supporters backed the winner in every contest except Ohio, where Santorum edged out Romney by 1 percentage point. Santorum and Gingrich split tea party votes in Mississippi. Romney has done pretty well with tea party supporters, but not with strong tea party supporters.
* Ideological, class, and religious divisions continue in the Republican electorate. Romney usually loses “very conservative” voters, but he does well with the “somewhat conservative” and “moderate/liberal” voters. He does better among suburban voters than rural ones and less religious than more religious voters. He has won at least a plurality of non-evangelical voters in every exit/entrance poll state except Georgia where Gingrich won them narrowly. Romney does well with college-educated and upper-income voters. He has almost always done better with college than non-college voters. With the exception of South Carolina and Georgia, Romney has won the votes of those with family incomes of $100,000 or more.
* The economy was the top issue for voters everywhere. More than 10 percent of voters in Michigan, Mississippi, Iowa, Ohio, Tennessee and Oklahoma selected abortion as the top issue. In no state did 15 percent of voters select it as the number-one issue. The exit pollsters asked about illegal immigration in 15 of 17 states, but only in Arizona did more than 10 percent of voters check it as the top issue.
Download the full report from AEI.