By ALAN FRAM and JENNIFER AGIESTA
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans voting Tuesday in Florida's presidential primary expressed pain from their state's weak economy and housing foreclosure crisis and divisions over what to do about illegal immigration, according to early results from an exit poll of voters.
There was also a restlessness about their party's presidential field, with fewer than 6 in 10 saying they were satisfied with the candidates. Younger voters tended to be less pleased than older voters with the current crop of contenders.
Even so, around 4 in 10 voters said they'd chosen their candidates more than a month ago, a greater proportion than in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the three states that have already held their GOP presidential contests this year.
More than 8 in 10 Florida voters said they were either holding their own financially or falling behind. Half said home foreclosures are a major problem in their communities, reflecting the state's status as one of the hardest-hit in the nation by a glut of homeowners who have lost their mortgages.
Overall, 6 in 10 said Tuesday that the economy was the issue that mattered most in choosing a candidate. Around a quarter cited huge federal budget deficits.
In a state in which Census Bureau data shows that almost 1 in 4 residents are of Hispanic origin, more than a third of GOP voters Tuesday said illegal immigrants should be given a chance to become U.S. citizens. The rest were about evenly divided between saying those immigrants should be allowed to stay as temporary workers or should be shipped back to their home countries.
About 1 in 7 of those voting Tuesday were themselves Hispanic — the first of the four states that have cast ballots so far in which the electorate wasn't virtually all white.
Reflecting the state's status as a retirement haven, nearly 4 in 10 Florida voters were over age 65, a higher share than in the three states that have already voted. Around 7 in 10 consider themselves conservative.
The survey of 1,979 voters Republican voters was conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks by Edison Research. This includes preliminary results among 1,379 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 4 percentage points.
— — — Associated Press global polling director Trevor Tompson and news survey specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report. (Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)