Preliminary results of an entrance poll show Mitt Romney coasted to victory in Nevada on the strength of improved margins among conservatives, tea partiers and senior citizens combined with a big boost from the state's large contingent of Mormons.
ECONOMY TOPS FOR MOST: Nevadans face one of the toughest economies in the country, and a majority of participants in today's caucuses said the economy was the issue that made the most difference in their vote. But the issue was cited as tops by fewer people than in Florida, South Carolina or New Hampshire. Romney carried 6 in 10 economy voters, his best showing among this group so far. A sizable one-third called the federal budget deficit the decisive issue in their vote, and these voters were less supportive of Romney. Four percent each said abortion or illegal immigration were their main issues.
Among younger voters, who have been one of Ron Paul's strongest constituencies in the primaries, top issue was a central divider. A majority of voters under age 45 who called the deficit their top issue backed Paul, while most who called the economy number one favored Romney. Among voters age 45 and over, majorities of both groups voted for Romney.
ROMNEY'S MOVEMENT ON THE RIGHT: Romney's performance tonight marks his strongest showing yet among "very conservative" voters, tea party backers and self-identified Republicans. Romney also topped forty percent for the first time among those who described themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians.
Despite those gains, Romney continues to lag among those voters who say it is most important that a candidate be a true conservative. Fewer than 1 in 10 in that group backed him.
Nevada's electorate was the most deeply conservative so far in the 2012 nomination contest, however, only about a quarter said they are evangelical Christians, less than half the level in Iowa or South Carolina.
BOLSTERED BY MORMONS: Mormon voters made up about one-quarter of the electorate in Nevada, and among them, about 9 in 10 backed Romney. Among all non-Mormons, Romney carried about 4 in 10 votes, including a narrow majority of Catholics and 4 in 10 Protestants. Paul carried the vote among nonreligious caucus-goers, winning nearly 60 percent.
ELECTABILITY STILL ROMNEY'S STRENGTH: The ability to defeat President Barack Obama in the fall was once again cited as the most important candidate quality by about half of voters, on par with results in other states that have voted so far. Among this group, Romney trounced his competitors, carrying nearly three-quarters of the vote. Romney also won a majority among those who prioritized a candidate's moral character or experience.
About 1 in 5 said it was most important to back a candidate with strong moral character, 1 in 6 cited true conservatism and about 1 in 7 cited experience.
THE IMPACT OF ADS: Campaign advertising had a narrower impact among Nevada caucus-goers than it did among Florida primary voters earlier this week. About twice as many Florida voters as Nevada caucus-goers called ads the most important factor in their vote.
DECIDING EARLY: Just 1 in 5 Nevada voters said they made up their minds in the last few days, fewer than said so in any other state this far.
The survey was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research as voters arrived at 25 randomly selected caucus sites in Nevada. Preliminary results from the survey involved interviews with 1,584 caucus-goers and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.