Republican primary voters in Super Tuesday's most contested states were older and more evangelical than they were four years ago, and the most important factor influencing their decision was defeating President Obama in November, according to exit polls conducted at polling places in those states.
For the first time in this primary season, exit pollsters also asked voters about gas prices, finding that Republicans consider the price of gas important, but not the most important factor in their votes on Tuesday.
In Georgia, the electorate was slightly more evangelical than in 2008, but on other measures, it closely resembles the electorate four years ago. White evangelicals made up 62 percent of primary voters, compared with 56 percent in 2008. The electorate was also slightly older: Twenty-four percent of voters were 65 or older, compared with 16 percent in 2008. A slight majority -- 51 percent in 2008 and 53 percent this year -- in both primaries were college graduates.
Georgia Republicans were also focused on beating Obama in the general election, with 44 percent telling exit pollsters that the ability to win in November was the most important quality for a candidate.
In the pivotal state of Ohio, the electorate was slightly more affluent than in 2008. Three-in-10 voters earned $100,000 or more a year, compared with only 21 percent at that income level four years ago. Forty-six percent of primary voters were college graduates, up from 39 percent in 2008.
Forty-two percent of Ohio voters said they want a candidate who can defeat Obama, with just 21 percent choosing the candidate with "strong moral character," 17 percent looking for the "true conservative" in the field, and 17 percent choosing the candidate with the "right experience."
In Oklahoma, the percentage of white evangelicals rose, from 65 percent in 2008 to 72 percent this year. But the electorate in Oklahoma was slightly less wealthy: Those making $100,000 a year accounted for three-in-10 voters in 2008, but were only 21 percent of the electorate on Tuesday.
Sooner State Republicans are also looking for a winner, with 38 percent choosing the ability to defeat Obama as the most important candidate quality.
The vast majority of Tennessee Republican primary voters -- 73 percent -- were white evangelicals; that group made up only 66 percent of 2008 primary voters.
Thirty-seven percent of Volunteer State voters said the most important quality was a candidate's ability to defeat Obama, compared with 23 percent choosing "strong moral character," 21 percent the "right experience," and 16 percent "true conservative."
Voters in all four states considered gas prices important to their vote, but few voters said it is the "most important" factor. In Ohio, for instance, just 10 percent of primary voters said gas prices were the most important factor, but 64 percent rated gas prices as an "important factor." Between 15 percent and 25 percent of voters in the four key states said the price of gas was either a "minor factor" or "not a factor at all."
In each of the four states, about three-in-10 voters said they made their decision "in the last few days," while around 70 percent of voters in each state said they decided before that.
Edison Research conducted exit polls in all seven primary states on Tuesday for the National Election Pool, a consortium of news organizations.