How Mitt Romney won Arizona

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally in Flint, Mich., Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Mitt Romney won a commanding victory Tuesday in the Arizona Republican primary. The CBS News exit poll of Arizona Republican primary voters showed that he did well across a wide range of demographic groups, including a number he had struggled with in previous contests. Romney's appeal was greatest among those prioritizing electability and economic issues, while his tough stance on immigration did more help than harm among Republican voters.

Broad Appeal

Romney performed well amongst most of the key demographic groups in Arizona. He won male voters by 20 percentage points and female voters by 13 percentage points. He won a plurality of support among voters in every age group, defeating his rivals by 27 points among those under 30 years of age, 13 points among those 31 to 64 years of age, and 16 points among those 65 years of age and older. He even won voters from every income group, including the very poorest. He topped his opponents by 28 points among those from households earning more than $100,000, by 15 points among those from households earning between $50,000 and $100,000, and by 8 points among those from households earning less than $50,000.

Arizona exit poll
Full Arizona results

Romney drew support from voters from each of the major religious affiliations in the state. He overwhelmingly won the support of his fellow Mormons, who comprised 14 percent of voters, securing 92 percent of their ballots. He also won the Protestant vote as well, easily defeating Rick Santorum 49 percent to 27 percent. Romney even won amongst Catholics - Santorum's faith - besting Santorum 41 percent to 34 percent.

Romney also did well from voters across the political spectrum, including very conservative voters, a group he has lost handily in every contest save his home state of New Hampshire. Among voters who reported being moderate or liberal on most political matters, Romney defeated Santorum 44 percent to 15 percent. Among somewhat conservative voters, Romney topped Santorum 49 percent to 25 percent. Romney even managed to match Santorum among voters who indicated they were very conservative on political issues, tying him 38 percent to 38 percent.

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Viewed as Most Electable

Electability was the most important character trait among voters in Arizona Republican primary. Thirty-eight percent of voters indicated that the ability to defeat Barack Obama in the presidential election was the candidate quality that mattered most in their decision, compared to 22 percent who cited experience, 20 percent who cited character, and 17 percent who cited conservative credentials. Among those voters prioritizing electability, Romney won by more than a 2-to-1 margin, defeating Santorum 54 percent to 23 percent.

When voters were explicitly asked which candidate was most likely to defeat Barack Obama in November, they chose Romney by a wide margin. A majority of voters - 55 percent - indicated that Romney had the best chance of any of the potential Republican nominees of winning the presidential election, compared to only 19 percent who named Santorum, 13 percent who named Newt Gingrich, and 5 percent who named Ron Paul.

Top Choice Among Voters Concerned With the Economy

The economy was once again the top issue as it has been in every Republican nomination contest to date. Nearly half of Arizona Republican primary voters - 48 percent - identified the economy as the issue that mattered most in their candidate choice. Among voters prioritizing the economy, Romney received 47 percent of their ballots, compared to 28 percent cast for Santorum.

Similarly, Arizona Republican primary voters valued a candidate with business experience. Fifty-nine percent of voters indicated working in business better prepares a candidate to serve effectively as president as opposed to 28 percent who thought a candidate working in government had acquired the best experience. Not surprisingly, of those voters who valued a business background, 56 percent preferred Romney as opposed to 23 percent who preferred Santorum.

Tough Stance on Illegal Immigration Paid Dividends

Romney attempted to boost his conservative credentials in Arizona by promoting tough stances on illegal immigration, including supporting the controversial state law requiring police to solicit immigration papers for any person suspected of entering the country illegally. These efforts appeared to pay off. Among the 13 percent of voters who said illegal immigration was the most important issue in their vote, 38 percent backed Romney, while 22 percent backed Gingrich and 22 percent backed Santorum.

Despite his conservative positions on illegal immigration, Romney still won among Latinos voters. Latinos comprised only 8 percent of the Arizona Republican primary electorate, but Romney secured 35 percent of their support, compared to 25 percent for Santorum. This was 12 percentage points higher than the 23 percent support he received in the 2008 contest.

Full Republican delegate scorecard
Nationwide primary results so far

Early Voting Diminished the Importance of the Debate

Romney's highly touted campaign organization has generally failed to live up to the hype in most contests, but it served him well in Arizona. Early voting in the Arizona Republican primary commenced on February 2, and Romney's considerable get-out-the-vote efforts appear to have succeeded. More than 300,000 ballots had been cast prior to Election Day and they broke heavily for Romney.

Similarly, the exit poll showed that most voters made up their minds well before the election. A majority of voters - 55 percent - decided for whom to vote in the Arizona Republican primary before this month. Of those who decided far in advance, they supported overwhelming preferred Romney to Santorum 45 percent to 19 percent. Only 16 percent of voters made up their mind in the last few days. While Santorum bested Romney amongst this group 37 percent to 35 percent, it was simply too little too late.

Poll results discussed in this article are based on a National Election Pool exit poll conducted by Edison Media Research. Interviews were conducted with 2535 Republican primary voters as they exited precincts around Arizona. The margin of error for the poll is +/-3 percentage points.

Full Michigan results
Michigan exit poll

  • Samuel Best

    Samuel J. Best is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the former director of the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut. He has written numerous books and articles about public opinion and electoral behavior, including Exit Polls: Surveying the American Electorate, 1972-2008, scheduled to be published by CQ Press in 2012. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the State University New York at Stony Brook.

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