Preliminary exit polls find South Carolina's late-deciding voters broke toward Newt Gingrich. Strong performances in the debates leading up to the contest and a conservative leaning electorate gave the former House speaker a boost in the first-in-the-South primary.
BROADLY CONSERVATIVE: About 7 in 10 voters in South Carolina said they tilt conservative on most political matters, according to early exit polls. That group gave Gingrich an edge over Mitt Romney. More moderate and liberal voters tilted toward Romney.
LATE DECIDERS: A majority of South Carolina Republican voters said they decided on a candidate in the last few days, and they favored Gingrich by a double-digit margin. Romney had a small edge among those who said they made up their minds in December or earlier.
RELIGIOUS VOTERS: Almost two-thirds of voters in South Carolina said they are born again or evangelical Christians, and about one-quarter said it was deeply important that a candidate share their religious views. Voters in both groups preferred Gingrich to Romney.
SEEKING A WINNER: Almost half of voters said the most important trait they sought in a candidate was ability to beat the President Barack Obama in November, and these voters favored Gingrich. Voters prioritizing electability backed Romney in both New Hampshire and Iowa. Only around 4 in 10 would support Romney enthusiastically should he win the nomination.
READING THE RESUME: About two-thirds of South Carolina voters said they had a positive impression of Romney's background investing in and restructuring companies, and Romney held a slim advantage among those voters. However, among those with a negative view of his time as a venture capitalist, he carried less than 5 percent of the vote.
FACING ECONOMIC CHALLENGES: Almost 8 in 10 voters said they were very worried about the future of the nation's economy, and about a third said someone in their household had lost a job since the start of Obama's term. These voters and those who called the economy their top issue tilted toward Gingrich.
Preliminary results are from an exit poll conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research as voters left their polling places at 35 randomly selected sites in South Carolina. The survey involved interviews with 2,271 Republican primary voters and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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