Ohio voters divided along ideological lines between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum on Tuesday, according to results from an exit poll in the state. Voters were focused on finding a candidate who could defeat President Barack Obama in November, and nearly two-thirds said they were committed to backing the eventual Republican nominee no matter who wins.
More than half of Ohio 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. Voters ranked abortion and illegal immigration far behind in terms of election issues.
Almost all voters expressed dissatisfaction with the federal government, including more than one in three voters saying they were angry about the way Washington is working. Those who said they are “angry” about the way the federal government is working tilted toward Romney over Santorum by a 7-point margin. Fiscal conservatives were about evenly divided, though Santorum carried the “very conservative” by a 9-point margin.
Just under half of GOP primary voters identified themselves as born-again or evangelical, and Santorum won roughly half of them. Romney, a Mormon, performed better among Roman Catholics in Ohio — who made up about a third of the electorate — than either Santorum or Gingrich, who are both Catholic. Roughly 4 in 10 Catholic voters favored Romney.
About 4 in 10 called a candidate’s ability to defeat Obama the most important quality guiding their decisions, far above those who said it was important a candidate be a true conservative or have strong moral character. Romney was seen as the candidate with the best chance to defeat Obama by about half of voters.
Santorum had a narrow lead over Romney among voters with a high school degree or less, often an indicator of blue-collar support, indicating Santorum may not have been as successful in his outreach to blue-collar voters. On the other end of the spectrum, Romney had a 10-point lead among voters with a master’s degree or higher.
The Ohio survey was conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks by Edison Research as voters left 40 selected polling places in the state. The Ohio poll involved interviews with 2,728 voters and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.