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S.C. Primary Voters Were Late-Deciding, More Evangelical S.C. Primary Voters Were Late-Deciding, More Evangelical S.C. Primary Voters Were Late-Deciding, More Evangelical S.C. Primary Voters Were ...

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The Trail: 2012 Presidential News from the Field / CAMPAIGN 2012

S.C. Primary Voters Were Late-Deciding, More Evangelical

Supporters await Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich during a South Carolina Republican presidential primary night rally, , Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012, in Columbia, S.C.(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

photo of Steven Shepard
January 21, 2012

More than half of South Carolina Republicans made their decision in the last few days before the election, according to the exit poll conducted Saturday after voters cast their ballots in the first-in-the-South primary, won by Newt Gingrich.

-- Fifty-five percent of voters said they made their decision in the last few days, compared to 44 percent who said they decided before that. Voters in South Carolina made their decisions later than their counterparts in the first two nominating states: 46 percent of Iowa caucus-goers and New Hampshire primary voters said they made their decisions in the last few days before those contests. In 2008, just 34 percent said they decided in the "last three days," a slightly different reference point.

(RELATED: Exit Poll Results from South Carolina)

 

-- Evangelical, or born-again Christians (65 percent) made up a larger percentage of the primary electorate than in 2008 (55 percent). Fifty-seven percent of Iowa caucus-goers were evangelicals, and in New Hampshire, evangelicals made up just 22 percent of primary voters.

-- The primary electorate in South Carolina is slightly less educated and less affluent than Iowa and New Hampshire. In the first two states, college graduates made up slight majorities of primary voters, but just 47 percent of South Carolina voters were college graduates. Thirty-five percent of South Carolina voters have a household income lower than $50,000, slightly higher than in both of the first two states.

-- Even more than Iowa and New Hampshire, Palmetto State voters are looking for a candidate who can beat President Obama. In Iowa, 31 percent said that was the most important candidate quality, ahead of a true conservative, strong moral character, or having the right experience. That number ticked up slightly to 35 percent in New Hampshire. But it jumped to 45 percent in South Carolina.

-- The debates mattered. Asked if the debates were important to their vote, 65 percent of South Carolina voters said they were, compared to a quarter of Iowa caucus-goers. But in New Hampshire, where Mitt Romney won easily, 84 percent of voters said the debates were important.

-- The endorsement of South Carolina's new Republican governor, Nikki Haley, did not help Romney to the extent his campaign would have hoped. Haley, who was nominated in a divisive, hotly-contested primary in 2010, earns the approval of just 66 percent of Republican primary voters, while 28 percent disapprove of her job performance.

-- Less than two-in-five voters, 38 percent, said they would enthusiastically support Romney if he was the eventual GOP nominee, while 48 percent said they would support Romney "with reservations." Twelve percent of voters said they would not support Romney; many of these were supporters of Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

The exit polls were conducted Saturday by Edison Research for the National Election Pool, surveying 2,381 Republican primary voters.

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