By JENNIFER AGIESTA
WASHINGTON (AP) — Preliminary exit poll results among Republican voters in Wisconsin and Maryland show differences between the socio-economic makeup of the two states, despite their ideological similarities.
LESS CONSERVATIVE, BUT NO LESS TEA PARTY FRIENDLY: Though early exit poll results suggest the electorates in each of these two states are a bit less strongly conservative than other recent primary states with exit polls -- about 3 in 10 voters in each say they are "very conservative," below the level in all but four states -- they are not less likely to be backers of the tea party movement.
Overall, about 6 in 10 in each state say they support the movement. That's on par with the level across the states where exit or entrance polls have been conducted during the GOP nominating contest.
And in Maryland, Mitt Romney's victory in the state included one of his strongest showings to date among conservatives. He and Rick Santorum split those describing themselves as "very conservative," his strongest showing among the group outside New England, Nevada or Virginia. About a third of Maryland voters said Santorum's positions on the issues were too conservative for their taste. Even among self-described conservatives, a quarter felt Santorum's views were too far to the right.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC OPPOSITES: Maryland and Wisconsin represent opposite sides of the GOP's socio-economic spectrum. In Maryland, nearly half of voters have family incomes of $100,000 or more annually. That's the highest level of any state where an exit or entrance poll has been conducted this cycle. In Wisconsin, just one-quarter have incomes at that level; only three states so far included fewer high-income voters.
Most of Maryland's Republican voters are college graduates, less than half in Wisconsin say they have degrees.
Romney typically fares best among high income and high education voters, and Maryland was no exception. He carried two-thirds of the vote among those with incomes above $200,000, and led Rick Santorum by 33 percentage points among those who had completed some post-graduate study. For the second time this cycle, a majority of Romney's supporters had household incomes above $100,000.
EXPECTATIONS FOR ROMNEY: All told, more than 8 in 10 voters in Wisconsin said they think Romney will win the Republican Party's nomination for president, a feeling shared by majorities across demographic and ideological groups. Voters in rural areas, moderates and those with household incomes below $50,000 are a bit less likely than others to think Romney has the nomination locked up.
IN MARYLAND, LOOKING AHEAD: About three-quarters of Maryland Republican primary voters said they would definitely cast a ballot for the Republican in November, more than said so among GOP voters in the Ohio or Michigan primaries, but less than said so in Alabama or Georgia. Obama won Maryland by 25 percentage points in 2008. Romney carried most of those who said they were definitely going to vote Republican in November, while those who were less certain were more closely divided between Santorum and Romney.
WALKER AND THE TEA PARTY: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker won in 2010 with strong backing from supporters of the tea party movement, and tea party voters who went to the polls Tuesday broadly approved of the way the embattled governor has handled his job. Overall, 89 percent of tea party supporters said they strongly approved of Walker's job performance. According to exit polls of voters in the 2010 gubernatorial contest, 88 percent of tea party backers voted for Walker.
Exit polls in Maryland and Wisconsin were conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks by Edison Research. This includes preliminary results among 1,153 Republican voters interviewed Tuesday as they left their polling places at 25 randomly selected sites in Maryland, and among 1,063 Wisconsin GOP voters as they left 35 polling places across the state. Results from both states have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. (Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)