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Inside Politics

Exit polls: Economy a chief concern

Respondents choose different candidates on same issue

John Kerry, left, and John Edwards
John Kerry, left, and John Edwards

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(CNN) -- What they view as a troubled national economy drew many voters to the primaries in five states Tuesday, but exit polls showed respondents favored different candidates to address the issue.

In North Dakota and New Mexico, where caucuses were held, voters were not polled.

About half of the respondents in Missouri who said they were worried about the economy chose Sen. John Kerry. He was also the choice of a similar proportion in Delaware and Arizona which viewed the economy as "poor."

Kerry won those three states as well as North Dakota and New Mexico.

Economic issues helped Sen. John Edwards capture the South Carolina primary, according to poll respondents. Edwards had called that primary a must-win contest.

Three-quarters of Oklahomans polled said the economy was either "not good" or "poor." Although retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark has claimed victory there, the race between him and Edwards remains too close to call. Kerry finished close behind those two.

Most South Carolinians, Arizonans, Oklahomans and Delaware and Missouri voters polled said issues, not electability -- a candidate's chance of beating President Bush in November -- determined their vote.

A vast majority of South Carolinians and more than three-quarters of Missouri respondents said they were "angry" or "dissatisfied" with the Bush administration, according to the polls. Close to half of Oklahomans at the polls said they were dissatisfied.

The ability to beat the Republican incumbent gave Kerry a strong showing with African-American voters in South Carolina, Missouri and Delaware.

African-Americans made up just less than half of respondents in the South Carolina exit polls, by far the most significant black voting presence among the first nine states on the Democrats' calendar.

But according to the exit polls, Edwards and Kerry virtually split the black vote in that state -- both drawing roughly double the minority support of the Rev. Al Sharpton, the next-closest candidate.

Kerry did appreciably better than Edwards among South Carolina's nonwhite male respondents, but the North Carolina senator made up the difference among nonwhite women.

Edwards had the support of about half of white respondents, about double the support for Kerry. Edwards also had twice as much support among Protestants, while the Massachusetts senator fared better among those who said they did not belong to any religion.

In Delaware, Kerry had the support of twice as many black respondents as Sharpton.

Kerry was hoping that same issue would lift him to a primary victory in Oklahoma, where he was the top choice of those in that state who said it was most important that the Democratic candidate be able to beat Bush, though less than a third of respondents said electability was more important than issues.

In Missouri, nearly three-quarters of voters polled who said having the "right experience" was the top quality they looked for in a candidate voted for Kerry. Edwards, meanwhile, bested all others among those looking for a "positive message."

Kerry also did better among Missouri respondents who disapproved of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean did as well among those opposed to the war as among those who backed it.

Being a veteran apparently did not help Kerry or Clark in South Carolina. Edwards led both candidates among respondents who said they lived in veteran households.

The Massachusetts senator was particularly strong among Democrats older than 65 in Delaware and Missouri. He also did well among Missouri's union members -- longtime supporters of former candidate Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri.

South Carolina's open primary system favored native son Edwards. In the exit polls, he crushed the rest of the Democratic field among independent- and Republican-leaning voters, as well as among those who identified themselves as conservative or moderate.

Edwards also scored high with those polled who said education was their primary issue.

Voters were split on which candidate "cares" the most about them. In South Carolina and Oklahoma, Edwards was the front-runner, while he tied with Kerry on caring in Missouri. Voters in Delaware said Kerry cared the most, while voters in Arizona pointed to Clark.


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