Moderates, older voters and those who want a candidate with the right experience favored John McCain, while many deeply religious voters flocked to Mike Huckabee in South Carolina’s Republican primary Saturday, preliminary exit poll results found.
In voting earlier in the day, whites and women helped Hillary Rodham Clinton to a popular-vote victory while blacks overwhelmingly backed Barack Obama in Nevada’s Democratic presidential caucuses. In that state’s Republican caucuses, one in four participants were Mormons and nearly all of them supported Mitt Romney as he romped in a barely contested race.
The voter surveys for The Associated Press and television networks found:
SOUTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PRIMARY
McCain was beating Huckabee by more than 2-to-1 among moderates, who were a quarter of the vote. Most of the rest of the electorate was conservative, and Huckabee led McCain only narrowly among them as Romney and Fred Thompson helped split that vote.
McCain also easily outdistanced his competition among older voters — and a quarter were at least age 65.
Huckabee found solid support among religious voters, and there were many of them: At least half were white evangelical or born-again Christian, while six in 10 said they attended religious services at least weekly. Huckabee won about four in 10 of each group but McCain got about a quarter. And McCain beat Huckabee by a larger margin among non-evangelicals and those who attend church infrequently or never.
At least a third of South Carolina Republican voters said it matters a great deal that a candidate shares their religious beliefs, and Huckabee won nearly half of them. But almost as many said the candidate’s religious beliefs matter not much or not at all and Huckabee won no more than one in 10 of them, with McCain doing best and Romney behind him among that group.
About seven in 10 opposed legalized abortion, but Huckabee won only among those who oppose it in all cases. McCain ran even with Huckabee among those who say abortion should be mostly illegal, and was far ahead among those who say abortion should always or mostly be legal.
Four in 10 said it was most important that a candidate shares their values, and Huckabee was their clear favorite. A quarter said their priority was that a candidate has the right experience and McCain won them by a far more overwhelming margin, getting more than 60 percent of that vote.
McCain did best among voters who said a candidate’s personal qualities were more important than his stand on issues. Huckabee had an edge over McCain and Thompson among those who said issues were more important.
Four in 10 voters picked the economy as the country’s most important issue; they voted about equally for Huckabee and McCain, with Romney next. Huckabee had a narrow edge among the one in four who cited illegal immigration. McCain won half the votes of those who said Iraq was the top issue. Thompson won about 20 percent each among those who picked terrorism and immigration.
Veterans were about a quarter of the overall vote and McCain had about a 10-point advantage among them.
NEVADA DEMOCRATIC CAUCUSES
Two-thirds of caucus-goers were white and Clinton won then by 52 percent to 34 percent for Obama. Fifteen percent were black and Obama won 83 percent of them. A similar proportion were Hispanic and they went more than 2-to-1 for Clinton, although the survey could not cover nine at-large voting precincts at casinos on the Las Vegas strip — sites expected to include many Hispanics among culinary union workers.
Women comprised 59 percent of caucus-goers and they went 51-38 for Clinton, while men split pretty evenly between her and Obama. That was more like the results in the New Hampshire primary than the Iowa caucuses, which Obama won by narrowly defeating Clinton among women.
Black women — choosing between voting for a black man or a white woman — supported Obama as overwhelmingly as black men did.
Excluding the casino sites, three in 10 caucus-goers were union members and they split evenly between Clinton and Obama.
Clinton won 58 percent of Catholics, who were 27 percent of the electorate. She won 44 percent of more numerous Catholics in New Hampshire.
Clinton and Obama split most ideological groups, although Clinton won among those who called themselves very liberal. Obama had won that group in New Hampshire but came under attack from Clinton and John Edwards as the Nevada race ended over perceived complimentary comments he made about Ronald Reagan. Clinton also edged out Obama among voters who made up their minds Saturday, though fewer than one in 10 did so.
As he did in Iowa, Obama won nearly six in 10 caucus-goers under age 30 — but they made up only 13 percent of caucus-goers. Clinton dwarfed that advantage by winning 60 percent of voters over age 60, who were more than a third of the electorate.
Obama won independents by 14 points while Clinton won by 12 among Democrats, who were four out of five caucus-goers.
Half the caucus-goers said it was most important to them that a candidate can bring about needed change, and Obama won 60 percent of them. But Clinton prevailed by getting three in 10 “change” voters plus nearly nine of 10 of those whose top priority was the candidate’s experience.
Edwards found no particularly strong support among any voter group as he ran a distant third. Asked their second choice in the entrance poll, four in 10 of Edwards’ supporters chose Obama while one-third chose Clinton.
NEVADA REPUBLICAN CAUCUSES
Mormons comprised 26 percent of those attending Nevada’s GOP caucuses, and 95 percent voted for Romney. Romney is a Mormon, and his religion has been cited as a problem by some Republican voters. Against little competition — only Romney and Ron Paul campaigned much in Nevada — he also won among Protestants and Catholics, although Paul won among the 7 percent who said they align with no religion.
Half of Romney’s overall vote in Nevada came from Mormons.
Nearly six in 10 of those identifying themselves as Republicans — the bulk of the voters — backed Romney. Half of independents favored Paul but they made up only about 12 percent of GOP caucus-goers.
Romney also led across the ideological spectrum, which in the Nevada Republican caucuses ranged almost exclusively from moderate to very conservative. Romney did better among more conservative voters.
The results were from surveys conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International among:
—1,648 voters leaving 35 precincts in South Carolina’s Republican primary; sampling error 4 points.
—1,098 voters entering 30 sites in Nevada’s Democratic caucuses; sampling error plus or minus 4 percentage points.
—833 voters entering 20 sites in Nevada Republican caucuses; sampling error 5 points.