(NEW YORK) — A broad sense of inevitability carried Mitt Romney into the Republican presidential primary in Wisconsin Tuesday, with preliminary exit poll results indicating that, whatever their preference, eight in 10 voters expect him to become their party’s eventual nominee.
Romney’s hopes in Wisconsin also are being boosted by less of a strong emphasis by voters on selecting a candidate who shares their religious beliefs. And a majority picks either electability in November or “the right experience” as the candidate attribute of chief concern, both winning qualities for Romney to date.
Still, nearly half the state’s voters describe Romney as “not conservative enough,” a possible opening for Santorum as he seeks a Northern win after thumping Romney in Louisiana on March 24.
But it’s a very different electorate from the Southern states in which Santorum’s done well. Fewer than four in 10 voters either in Maryland or Wisconsin Tuesday describe themselves as evangelicals, compared with 61 percent in Louisiana and an average of 53 percent in all GOP primaries to date. Three in 10 in Wisconsin and Maryland alike say they’re very conservative; in Louisiana, that was 49 percent.
At the same time, preliminary results indicate an influx of independent voters in Wisconsin — three in 10 call themselves independents, compared with 23 percent in the state’s primary in 2008. That’s a group that may be less impressed by Romney’s position as the party’s establishment candidate. Additionally, one in 10 in the state’s open primary say they’re Democrats.
In one question not asked previously, Romney and Santorum run about evenly in trust among Wisconsin voters to handle health care policy — another opportunity for Santorum, yet also a competitive showing for Romney given his vulnerability on the issue among voters critical of the mandatory coverage law he signed as governor of Massachusetts.
Voters in Maryland, meanwhile, are marked by their education and incomes. A quarter report having done post-graduate study, second only to Virginia this year. And nearly half report household incomes of $100,000 or more, the most in any state to date in which exit polls have been conducted, and in the past an especially strong group for Romney. And about half of voters in Maryland call Romney neither too liberal nor too conservative but “about right” ideologically, his best showing to date in states in which this question’s been asked.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio