Pew's Kohut Talks About Florida Exit Polls

Tuesday is the next step in the Republican presidential primary race as voters in Florida take to the polls. Audie Cornish talks with Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, about what the exit polls say about the concerns and issues of Florida voters.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Republicans went to the polls today in Florida to cast ballots for their party's presidential nomination. It's not the only first - it's not the first big state to - it's not only the first big state to vote this year, it's also the most diverse.

Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, has taken a look at early exit polls and joins us now to talk about who turned out to vote. Hi, there, Andy.

ANDREW KOHUT: Hi.

CORNISH: So start by talking about the electorate. Who turned out today?

KOHUT: It's a very distinctive electorate, the Florida Republican base. Thirty-eight percent of them are older voters. It's an older state. Only 21 percent back in New Hampshire were 65 and older, so - and only five percent of these voters were under 30 years of age. Not many young people participated. Now, what's distinctive about this electorate as well is a high registration of Latinos and Hispanics. Fifteen percent of the voters that were polled in the first wave of exit polling describe their nationality as Latino or Hispanic.

That compares to about 12 percent four years ago, so it's not at all that different. One thing that really comes through is that it's a somewhat more conservative Republican electorate than four years ago. Sixty-six percent say they agree with the Tea Party. But the percentage of white Evangelical Protestants is lower, 46 percent, than what we saw in South Carolina and what we saw in Iowa.

CORNISH: So we know a little bit about who they are. Can you give us a sense of what the mood is out there, at least among Republicans in Florida?

KOHUT: Well, if you look at a number of the questions that I've been looking at over the past few hours, you see a very divided, disappointed electorate in some respects. When we asked, which of these candidates understands people's needs, there was no consensus about any of the candidates, a kind of an even division of opinion. When we asked how satisfied are you with the choices, only 57 percent said they were satisfied, and other 39 percent said, we wish someone else was running. Back in South Carolina, many more, 66 percent said they were satisfied with their choices.

This mirrors what we're seeing in national polls with the Republicans saying this field of candidates is not particularly exciting to them. And if you look at the issues in Florida, the top - one of the top issues, immigration - they're evenly divided. There's many people say let the illegals apply for a citizenship, that say deport them. And both front-runners are seen as running pretty negative, unfair campaigns. The mood isn't particularly good as I look at these exit polls.

CORNISH: You talked a little bit about issues there, talking about immigration. But were there other issues that Florida voters cared about?

KOHUT: Well, the top issue in Florida, 62 percent said they were voting on the economy. And that's very comparable to what we've seen in all of the other - the primaries and caucuses. The deficit was number two. Again, that's quite familiar. The personal quality that these Republicans want are they want the candidate who could best - most likely beat Obama. And again, that's - there's nothing different there.

What comes through in this - about this electorate is that while most say they're holding steady, of about 29 percent saying they're falling behind financially, as many as 50 percent say, in this land-oriented state, that foreclosures are a big problem in the communities in which they live.

CORNISH: Really brought this issue with the candidates, too, for hearing them talk about it the first time, really, in the election seriously.

KOHUT: That's right. That's right.

CORNISH: Now, how did these voters compare to who turned out in previous contests, say, Iowa or South Carolina?

KOHUT: Well, one of the things that comes through here is you had so many early voters who voted by mail or absentee ballots, about a third of the votes cast will come in that way. And it seems to have affected campaign strategy. Many fewer said that they were late deciders, just 27 percent decided in the last couple of days. And that may reflect that, yeah, they've already voted. They voted last week. That was - that number of - deciding in the last few days was as high as 55 percent in South Carolina. Relatively few said that the advertisements mattered. And Lord knows there were...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KOHUT: ...a lot of advertisements.

CORNISH: A lot of advertisements, and a lot of them negative. Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, thank you so much for talking with us.

KOHUT: You're quite welcome.

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