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A Tale of Two Electorates


Voters went to the polls today in South Carolina. (Getty Images).

By Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta
Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee are in a close race for the top spot in South Carolina, with McCain winning moderate and liberal GOP voters and Huckabee excelling among religious conservatives, according to preliminary network exit poll data.

Only about three in 10 primary voters are moderate or liberal (down from 2000), but they broke for McCain by more than 2 to 1. McCain also runs about evenly among those who are "somewhat conservative," while Huckabee had a wide advantage among those who call themselves "very conservative."

Evangelicals made up six in 10 primary voters, and more than six in 10 attend church at least weekly. Huckabee had double-digit advantages in both groups.

If McCain is able to pull out a win in the Palmetto State, he'll do so with an electorate that is, on first glance, less favorable to him than the one he faced in 2000. Eight years ago, independents made up 30 percent of GOP voters; this year, 18 percent considered themselves independents. Another difference is that McCain tied his main rival among Republicans, after losing them by a wide margin in 2000 to George W. Bush.

The economy was the top issue, according to the exit poll conducted at 35 randomly-selected precincts. Next on the list was immigration, followed by Iraq and terrorism. Economy voters divided evenly between McCain and Huckabee.

More than four in 10 said the top candidate quality is "shares my values," about a quarter said candor and a quarter experience. Huckabee dominated among "values voters," McCain among those seeking a solid resume.

About a quarter of the electorate had served in the military, and they appeared to break for McCain. In 2000, 48 percent of veterans voted for McCain, 47 percent for Bush.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 19, 2008; 8:10 PM ET
Categories:  The Pollster  
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