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Exit polls: Economy, electability top issues

Many voters in Democratic presidential contests around the country Tuesday said they thought the economy and jobs were the top issues in the campaign, according to NBC News exit polls.
/ Source: NBC News and news services

Many voters in Democratic presidential contests scattered around the country Tuesday said they thought the economy and jobs were the top issues in the campaign and they want a strong-willed candidate who can beat President Bush, according to NBC News exit polls.

Voters in Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina all cited the economy and jobs as their top concerns, according to a voter survey conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by the National Election Pool.

In South Carolina, the ability of favorite son John Edwards to connect with voters on a personal level and tap into voters' economic discontent were keys to his big win in the state.  NBC News has interviewed more than 1,284 voters as they left their polling places in South Carolina.

When South Carolina voters were asked to what quality they were most looking for in a candidate, nothing rated higher that feeling a personal connection.

S.C. voters respond to Edwards' message
When NBC exit pollsters broke out the choice of voters looking for a candidate they believed cares about them personally, Edwards' personability factors bore huge dividends: Edwards had a huge advantage over John Kerry, 57 to 18 percent. 

Edwards also did better than Kerry among South Carolina voters most attracted to a candidate with a "positive message."

And in an expression of political viability prevailing over identity politics, Edwards won over South Carolina's African American voters, garnering a slight edge over black Kerry voters, 37 per cent to 34 per cent, according to NBC News exit polling data.

It was a sound rebuff to the insurgent campaign of Rev. Al Sharpton.

According to NBC News exit polls, Sharpton finished a distant third in the race for black voters, getting only about 18 percent -- less than half of what Edwards received.

African-American voters are a large chunk of the electorate in South Carolina; early NBC estimates indicated they would constitute between 40 and 50 percent of voters.

In all the states, almost half the primary voters said their financial situation was worse than it was four years ago, and more than a third said it was about the same.

An NBC News exit survey of voters in the seven states in play found them unhappy with the Bush administration, with many downright angry.

NBC News spoke with voters as they left their polling places in South Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arizona and Delaware.

Overwhelming majorities against Bush
Big majorities in all of these states — at least 75 percent everywhere — expressed dissatisfaction with or anger at the Bush administration.

Kerry's across-the-board victory in Missouri apparently capitalized on voter anger with Bush, and the view that Kerry is the Democratic candidate most likely to win in November.

Democrats in the Show Me state have apparently been shown enough of Bush: 42 per cent of those responding to NBC News exit polls said they were angry with the Bush administration, while 39 percent characterized their feeling as "dissatisfied."

Democratic caucuses were being held in New Mexico and North Dakota, but no exit polls were done for those contests.

Voters in the five primary states agreed the quality they most wanted in a candidate was the ability to beat Bush in November and they also wanted a candidate who would stand up for what he believes.

Nearly half the voters in South Carolina were black and nearly one in six in Arizona were Hispanic, the first contests with sizable minority populations in the primary campaign. In Missouri and Delaware, about 15 percent of voters were black.

In South Carolina, where polls closed at 7 p.m. ET, black voters were most likely to say they wanted a candidate who stands up for people like them, and they were most likely to choose the economy and jobs as the most important issue.

Overall, more than 8 in 10 voters said they are angry or dissatisfied with the president. About half are dissatisfied, and just over one-third are angry. Just a little over 1 in 10 expressed favorable opinions toward the Bush administration.

Hispanic voters in Arizona divided
In Arizona, Hispanic voters were split among those who wanted a candidate who can beat Bush, stands up for what he believes and cares about people like them. They were most likely to cite health care as the most important issue.

Voters from military households made up more than two-thirds of the voters in South Carolina and Oklahoma. They made up more than half of the voters in Arizona, Delaware and Missouri.

About half of voters across all five states made up their minds within the last week, with nearly one in five in most states not deciding until Tuesday.

Voter anger at Bush was widespread in all the states, but at varying levels. More than half of voters in Delaware, almost half in Arizona and four in 10 in Missouri said they were angry. In South Carolina and Oklahoma, a third said they were angry and nearly half were dissatisfied but not angry.

More than seven in 10 voters in Arizona, Delaware, Missouri and South Carolina disapproved of Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq; in Oklahoma, the number disapproving was more than half.

The exit polls were conducted for The Associated Press by Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International. Voters were surveyed as they left precincts Tuesday, with the number counted ranging from 777 in Delaware to 1,284 in South Carolina. In Arizona, the poll includes a telephone survey of absentee voters.

NBC News' AnaMaria Arumi contributed to this report.