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Entrance Polls Show Conservatives Dominating Nevada GOP Caucuses


(AP) -- Conservatives accounted for around 4 in 5 voters Saturday as Nevada Republicans chose their presidential candidates, a poll of people entering the caucuses showed, tying Iowa as the most conservative group of GOP voters so far this year.

Around 3 in 4 Nevada voters said they were tea party supporters, according to preliminary results of the survey. That was the highest proportion of the five states that have now held their GOP presidential contests.

One in 4 voters Saturday was Mormon, the religion of one of the contenders, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. That was about the same proportion as in the state's 2008 contest.

Just over half said the economy was the dominant issue as they decided which candidate to support. Surprisingly, that was a bit below the proportion who named the economy in the most recent states to vote - New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida - even though Nevada's near 13 percent jobless rate in December was the nation's highest.

Even so, the economy has been voters' top issue in every state so far, even as data continues to show it is slowly regaining some strength. The No. 2 issue in Nevada was the federal budget deficit, cited by 1 in 3.

Given a choice of four qualities they were seeking in a candidate, more than 4 in 10 said they wanted someone who could defeat President Barack Obama in this fall's elections. That has been the leading characteristic cited in every state.

One in five said they wanted a candidate with strong moral character, while slightly less were seeking a real conservative or someone with the proper experience.

About 4 in 10 said campaign advertising played an important role in deciding which candidate to back. Romney spent around $371,000 for television commercials in Nevada, followed closely by Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum spent around $12,000 while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has been Romney's chief competitor nationally, did not advertise at all, reflecting his sparse operation in the state.

About 1 in 4 voters were evangelical or born-again Christians.

The survey was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research as voters arrived at 25 randomly selected caucus sites in Nevada. The survey involved interviews with 1,553 caucus-goers and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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