TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – Voters in Tuesday’s Florida Republican primary chose Mitt Romney as the candidate best able to beat President Barack Obama in the fall, preferring electability over ideology in lifting the former Massachusetts governor to a broad victory despite concerns that his issue positions are not conservative enough.
ROMNEY RECAPTURES ELECTABILTY: A majority of Florida GOP voters said Romney is the candidate best able to beat Obama in a general election matchup; only about 3 in 10 said the same of Newt Gingrich. And Romney carried 6 in 10 votes among those seeking a candidate who could defeat the president in November. Gingrich had a strong showing among those seeking a true conservative and split the vote with Romney among those seeking an experienced candidate.
CONSERVATIVES THEN AND NOW: In 2008, Romney carried the mantle of conservative alternative to eventual Republican nominee John McCain. This time around, about 4 in 10 Florida voters said Romney’s issue positions are not conservative enough, and very conservative voters were more apt to back Gingrich than the former governor of Massachusetts. Strong supporters of the tea party movement also favored Gingrich over Romney, but Romney carried 50 percent or more among those who support the movement somewhat, are neutral or oppose it.
THE GENDER GAP: Romney won by a wide margin among women after a deeply negative campaign in Florida raising questions about Gingrich’s character. Women were more apt than men to say they were influenced by campaign advertising, and were a bit more likely to say a candidate’s “strong moral character” was the most important factor in their vote. In the end, only about half of women in the poll report holding a positive opinion of Gingrich as a person, compared with nearly 8 in 10 who have a positive opinion of Romney.
ECONOMIC CONCERNS TRUMP ALL: About 6 in 10 said the economy was their top issue in choosing a candidate, about half said foreclosures were having a major impact on their community, and 3 in 10 said they were falling behind financially.
SEEKING OTHER CHOICES: Four in 10 voters said they would like to see someone else run for the nomination, more than said so in New Hampshire a few weeks ago, though the window for another candidate to join the field is nearly closed. About half of voters said they would be satisfied if Gingrich or Rick Santorum became the nominee. More, about two-thirds, said they’d be satisfied with a Romney candidacy, including about 4 in 10 who voted for Gingrich and half who backed Santorum.
The survey of 2,739 Republican voters was conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks by Edison Research. This includes preliminary results among 2,139 voters interviewed Tuesday as they left their polling places at 40 randomly selected sites in Florida. In addition, 600 who voted early or absentee were interviewed by landline or cellular telephone from Jan. 23 to 29. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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