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Economy, change were key issues for most voters, polls show

Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama rejoiced last night in Columbia, S.C. Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama rejoiced last night in Columbia, S.C. (JASON REED/Reuters)
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Associated Press / January 27, 2008

Barack Obama swept to victory in yesterday's South Carolina Democratic primary on the strength of support of African-Americans, voters who were looking for a candidate who could bring change, and voters who believe the economy is the most important issue facing the country, according to preliminary data from exit polls conducted for the Associated Press and television networks.

Black voters in South Carolina voted overwhelmingly for Obama, with 8 in 10 supporting him. Nearly all the rest voted for Hillary Clinton. While a quarter of whites also voted for Obama, three-quarters of whites split their votes between the two white candidates, Clinton and John Edwards, about evenly. Edwards's support came almost exclusively from white voters.

In the historic battle that pitted a black man against a white woman, the question on many minds was how black women would vote. They went overwhelmingly for Obama, in the same 8 in-10 proportion as black male voters. Nearly all the rest voted for Clinton.

Clinton wasn't even able to get a majority of white women, a group she won with just over 40 percent of the vote. Edwards won about a third of white women, while Obama won about 20 percent of them. Edwards won among white men.

Three in four voters said the country is ready to elect a black president, and about the same said the country is ready to elect a woman. Nine in 10 Obama voters said the country is ready for a black president, but fewer Clinton voters said the country is ready. Nearly all Clinton voters and two-thirds of Obama voters said the country is ready to elect a woman president.

Just over half the voters said they were looking for candidate who could bring about needed change, a group Obama won handily. Fifteen percent of voters said they were mostly looking for a candidate with experience, the only candidate quality that Clinton dominated. Edwards and Obama split the votes of those who want a candidate who cares about people like them, and Clinton and Obama split the votes of those few voters who were looking for a candidate who can win in November. Two-thirds of blacks say Obama is most electable, while more whites think Clinton is most electable.

Given three choices, half of voters said the economy was the most important issue facing the country, up from 38 percent in the New Hampshire primary in early January. Economy voters lined up behind the candidates in a similar fashion to the overall result, with Obama winning about half, Clinton coming in well behind, and Edwards in third.

About a quarter of voters said healthcare was the most important problem facing the country. Obama won their support by an even greater margin, with Clinton getting just a quarter of their support. The war in Iraq was judged most important by only one in five voters, and they also voted mostly for Obama.

Given the choice, 6 in 10 voters said the issues were most important to their vote, and they voted for Obama. Clinton did a little better among those who said leadership and personal qualities were most important, but Obama still won that group as well.

About half of white voters who decided within the last three days voted for Edwards, with the rest going to Obama and Clinton about evenly.

It appears that Bill Clinton's campaigning for his spouse helped her. Nearly six in 10 said the former president's campaigning in the state was an important factor for them, including a quarter who called it very important. Blacks who said his campaigning was important were almost 5 times more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton than those who said it wasn't important, although Obama still won most of those blacks who said it was an important factor. Clinton also did better among those whites who said Bill Clinton's campaigning was important, while Edwards won among those whites who said it wasn't important.

After the contentious Democratic debate Monday night, three in four Obama voters said Clinton had attacked Obama unfairly and slightly fewer than half accused their own candidate of attacking Clinton unfairly. Edwards voters were more likely than either of the other candidates' supporters to say Clinton and Obama attacked each other unfairly.

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