The first Republican primary restricted to only registered GOP voters was also the oldest and most racially diverse thus far, according to exit polls of Florida voters.
The electorate that chose Mitt Romney as its preferred presidential candidate in the fall was also slightly older, slightly more Latino, and slightly more female than the group of Republicans who picked Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., over Romney in 2008.
-- More female voters cast ballots this year than in 2008, when women accounted for just 44 percent of the electorate. On Tuesday, female voters made up just less than half, 49 percent, of the overall electorate.
-- Florida's Hispanic population makes the state the first in the presidential nominating cycle in which white voters made up less than 98 percent of the electorate. According to exit polls, just 82 percent of voters Tuesday were white, while 15 percent identified as Hispanic or Latino.
-- Seniors made up 35 percent of the electorate on Tuesday, up slightly from 33 percent in 2008. The Florida electorate is also significantly older than the first three states: Seniors made up 26 percent of Iowa caucus-goers, 21 percent of New Hampshire primary voters, and 27 percent of voters in South Carolina.
-- Because Florida is a closed-primary state, its electorate more closely resembles South Carolina, which Romney lost, than New Hampshire, which Romney won. In Florida and South Carolina, just over two-thirds of the electorate identified as conservative -- compared with just 53 percent of New Hampshire primary voters. And the 65 percent of Florida voters who said they supported the tea party movement looks a lot more like South Carolina (63 percent) than New Hampshire (51 percent).
-- One key difference between Florida and South Carolina is the diminished role of born-again or evangelical Christians. Just 40 percent of white voters in Florida identified as evangelicals. In South Carolina, 65 percent of all voters -- 98 percent of voters were white, so exit pollsters did not filter them out -- said they were born-again or evangelical Christian.
-- As in South Carolina, a plurality of voters said the most important quality they wanted in a candidate was the ability to defeat President Obama in November. Forty-six percent said defeating Obama was most important. That is one percentage point more than in South Carolina and represents a sustained increase from Iowa (31 percent) and New Hampshire (35 percent).
-- Republican primary voters are divided on what to do about illegal immigrants working in the United States: 38 percent want to offer them a chance at citizenship, 26 percent would let them stay as temporary workers, and 31 percent think they should be deported to their native countries. In the 2008 exit poll, 40 percent favored deporting illegal immigrants, while just 29 percent said they should be offered a path to citizenship.
-- Florida has early voting, so it is perhaps not surprising that fewer voters there said they made up their mind over the last few days before the election. In Iowa and New Hampshire, 46 percent of voters said they made up their minds in the final few days, and late-deciders made up 55 percent of South Carolina's primary electorate. But in Florida, just 28 percent said they made up their minds in the last few days.
The exit poll was conducted on Tuesday by Edison Research, on behalf of the National Election Pool. A subsample of respondents who said they voted early was also conducted by telephone.
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