WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitt Romney played to his strengths in Arizona and Michigan, carrying economy voters and those seeking the most electable candidate, according to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press in both states. Romney was able to expand beyond those reliable bases, which have backed him in each state with an exit poll except for South Carolina, and also capture voters focused on a candidate's experience or concerned about the deficit.
TOP ISSUES: Though the economy remained tops in both states, 14 percent of voters in Michigan called abortion their top concern and 13 percent in Arizona called illegal immigration most important. Both are highs for the campaign. Romney carried economy voters and those who called the deficit their top priority. He also carried immigration voters in Arizona by nearly 20 points. In Michigan, Rick Santorum held a broad, 6-to-1 lead among those who called abortion their top issue.
ROMNEY CARRIES EXPERIENCE VOTERS: About 1 in 5 voters in each state said it was most important to them to select a candidate who has the right experience for the job. In both states, Romney carried a broad majority of these voters, topping Santorum by 41 points in Michigan and by 39 points in Arizona. Voters in both states said a background in business was better preparation for the presidency than one in government.
DEBATES LOSING STEAM: Debates were not an important factor in most voters' decisions in either state. Thirty-five percent in Michigan and 47 percent in Arizona said debates were an important factor, well off the debate high-point notched in Florida and South Carolina, where more than 6 in 10 called debates leading up to those primaries an important factor in their vote. In both Arizona and Michigan, those who called the debate an important factor tilted toward Romney. There were fewer late-deciders in these two states than in any previous contest measured with an exit poll.
ECONOMIC CHALLENGES: About 1 in 3 Michigan voters said they or someone in their household had lost a job in the last three years, while 1 in 5 Arizona voters said their family was falling behind financially. Romney fared better among those with higher household incomes, but Santorum did not amass large enough advantages among those on the lower end of the scale to carry either state, despite his recent focus on appealing to blue-collar workers.
SEEKING RELIGIOUS COMPATIBILITY: A majority of voters in Michigan said it mattered a great deal or somewhat that a candidate shares their religious beliefs, about the same as in 2008. In Arizona, that figure stood at about half. Santorum carried the voters who said shared religious beliefs mattered "a great deal." About 4 in 10 voters in each state describe themselves as born-again or evangelical. Santorum held an edge among evangelical voters in Michigan, but split them with Romney in Arizona.
LOOKING AHEAD TO NOVEMBER: Both Arizona and Michigan are potential swing states in the general election this November, and some in the GOP have been concerned a drawn-out contest would hurt the eventual Republican nominee's chances in states with particularly nasty campaigns. In these states, however, most GOP primary voters felt the campaign was no uglier than in previous years, and the majority said they will definitely vote for the Republican nominee in November, while just 12 percent in Michigan and 7 percent in Arizona said they would only vote Republican if their candidate became the nominee.
Results from the Arizona exit poll are based on interviews with 2,535 Republican primary voters, including 601 absentee or early voters who were interviewed by phone before election day. Michigan results are based on interviews with 2,200 voters, including 412 absentee or early voters. Election day voters come from a random sample of 30 precincts in each state. The Michigan poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, it is 3 points in Arizona.