- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The economy’s precipitous decline was the most important issue among Democrats who voted in the presidential primaries and caucuses yesterday, while Republicans had a rosier view of its health, according to voter exit surveys nationwide.

Given three issues to choose from — the economy, the Iraq war and health care — almost half, or 47 percent, of all Democratic voters named the economy as the most serious issue facing the country today, 30 percent singled out Iraq as the top issue, and 19 percent said health care.

Four in 10 Republican voters said the economy was the most important issue in making their choice. But two in 10 picked immigration and the war in Iraq, and somewhat fewer named terrorism as the main issue.

Six months ago, Iraq was the dominant issue among Democrats, but a sharp decline in the level of violence as a result of the U.S. military surge has significantly lessened concern about the war.

While earlier polls showed that half of all Republicans were satisfied with the economy, fewer than one in 10 Democratic voters yesterday said the economy was excellent or good, half said it was not so good, and four in 10 called it poor.

In the Republican race, conservatives made clear yesterday they will continue to shun Sen. John McCain yesterday despite his victories.

Mitt Romney, apparently benefiting from the anti-McCain sentiment, led among Republicans who consider themselves conservative, early exit polls in the Super Tuesday states showed. Mike Huckabee, a favorite of Protestant evangelical voters, continued to siphon some of Mr. Romney’s conservative support.

“A conservative backlash against McCain has been developing, but whether it had the time to pick up enough steam to let Romney overtake him is still unclear,” said American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene, who has endorsed Mr. Romney. “The early contests [in the eastern states] will overstate McCain’s strength.”

About 80 percent of the Romney voters called themselves “conservatives,” compared with 49 percent of those who voted for Mr. McCain. Although he got a far smaller overall vote in most states, 75 percent of Mr. Huckabee’s voters described themselves as conservative.

The question of who excites the Republican Party’s conservative base is considered crucial because they have been willing to sit on the sidelines in general elections — no matter how liberal the Democratic nominee.

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, an influential conservative whose organization reaches millions, yesterday said he will not vote if Mr. McCain is the Republican candidate.

“I am deeply disappointed the Republican Party seems poised to select a nominee who did not support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage, voted for embryonic stem-cell research to kill nascent human beings, opposed tax cuts that ended the marriage penalty, has little regard for freedom of speech, organized the Gang of 14 to preserve filibusters in judicial hearings, and has a legendary temper and often uses foul and obscene language,” Mr. Dobson said.

In the exit polls, half of Mr. Romney’s voters and seven in 10 of Mr. Huckabee’s voters chose the candidate who “shares my values.” A third of Mr. McCain’s voters said experience was most important, one-fourth said he shares their values and one-fourth said the proprietor of the Straight Talk Express “says what he believes.”

In the Democratic race, polls showed that Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois was scoring big leads among black voters and white men, and among men overall. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York was drawing strong support among Hispanic voters and white women, and women overall, although her lead among women appeared to be less than in earlier primaries.

In her home state of New York, however, she was more competitive among men and won four in 10 black voters, while in Arizona, Mr. Obama had more appeal among Hispanics than he did nationally.

In the Republican contests, Mr. McCain led among men, but he was tied with Mr. Romney among female voters.

When asked in all of the primaries polled which qualities influenced their vote the most, nearly half of Mrs. Clinton’s voters said it was her experience, a theme she has emphasized in her campaign, while three out of four of Mr. Obama’s voters said he “can bring about needed change,” the quality he made the centerpiece of his candidacy.

As was the case in New Hampshire, which Mrs. Clinton won, primaries are often decided by voters who make their decisions within the past three days and the polls showed that the two rivals were splitting those voters — 47 percent of them voting for Mr. Obama and 46 percent for Mrs. Clinton.

About half of all Democratic primary voters said they had made up their minds more than a month ago. About one in 10 decided yesterday, and slightly more said they decided in the past three days.

Both candidates have made a major effort to attract younger voters who traditionally do not participate in primaries as much as older voters. More than one in 10 Democratic voters were under the age of 30, while one in five were 65 and older.

The polls also showed that voter turnout was significantly higher for the Democrats than for the Republicans yesterday.

The exit polling was conducted yesterday for the Associated Press and television networks by independent polling companies who surveyed voters in more than 400 precincts in 16 states. The surveys had a margin of error of two percentage points.

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