By HENRY C. JACKSON, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitt Romney won in the Northeast on Super Tuesday, while Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich picked up victories in Southern states — results that showcased the vastly different slices of the Republican electorate that headed to the polls.
But even as results diverged, voters in each of the seven primary states polled on Super Tuesday said the same issue — the economy — was their top concern. From more moderate Massachusetts and Vermont to more conservative states such as Oklahoma and Tennessee, the economy was the top issue.
TOP ISSUES: The economy is the No. 1 issue for voters in every Super Tuesday state polled, according to exit polls. In Vermont and Massachusetts, which Romney won, voters overwhelmingly cited the economy as their top issue with almost 6 in 10 voters in Massachusetts and most voters in Vermont citing it as a top issue.
In the general election battleground of Ohio, more than half of voters said the economy was their top issue. Among those, Romney claimed about 4 in 10 voters. The next most important issue to voters in Ohio was the federal budget deficit, with about a quarter of voters citing it as their top issue. Romney ran slightly ahead of Santorum among those voters.
In Georgia, where Gingrich was victorious, about 6 in 10 voters said the economy was their top issue.
That was true in other Southern and more conservative states, though more there expressed concern about the deficit. In Tennessee, Oklahoma and Virginia, more than 3 in 10 called the federal budget deficit their top issue. Santorum and Romney ran roughly even among Tennessee voters who cited the deficit as the biggest issue.
IDEOLOGICAL DIVIDE: Tuesday's votes showcased different parts of the GOP base.
In the Northeast, more moderate Republicans headed to the polls. Vermont's electorate is the only state where exit or entrance polls have been conducted thus far in the nominating contest in which a majority of Republican voters were moderate or liberal. Among them, Romney won handily with roughly 4 in 10 moderate voters favoring him.
In contrast, Oklahoma voters are among the most conservative to vote yet. Nearly half of that state's voters identified themselves as "very" conservative — outpacing that group's share of the vote in Oklahoma in both 2008 and 2000. Santorum was the favorite of these voters with about 4 in 10 favoring the former Pennsylvania senator.
INCOME DIVIDE: Across the seven states polled, Mitt Romney was the preferred candidate of the wealthiest voters, according to exit polls. In Ohio and Tennessee, Romney won about half of voters who reported a household income of more than $200,000. In Georgia, about a third of voters with a family income greater than $100,000 backed Romney and in his home state of Massachusetts about three quarters of voters making more than $200,000 backed Romney.
Santorum, in turn, did well among less affluent voters. In Ohio and Tennessee, he claimed about 4 in 10 voters reporting an annual income under $100,000, and in Oklahoma, he won about 4 in 10 voters who made less than $50,000.
ANGER AT GOVERNMENT: Voters across the country expressed frustration with the federal government. In Ohio, Georgia and Tennessee — the only states where the question was asked — about 9 in 10 voters said they were either angry or dissatisfied with the federal government. About 4 in 10 voters in each state said they were angry with the way the federal government is working, according to exit polls.
RELIGIOUS VOTERS: In Tennessee and Oklahoma three-quarters of voters identified themselves as born again. That tops the share in any state with entrance or exit polls voting prior to Super Tuesday.
In both states, Santorum performed well among religious voters. In Tennessee and Oklahoma, which Santorum won, he carried born-again and evangelical voters by double-digit margins. Santorum, who is a Catholic, performed well with born-again and evangelical voters in each of the seven states polled on Tuesday, but they made up a smaller slice of the electorate in other states. In Ohio, for example, just under half of GOP primary voters identified themselves as born-again or evangelical, and Santorum won roughly half of them.