WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney's wins in the Wisconsin and Maryland primaries show he can win states on both ends of the GOP's socio-economic spectrum, though both states rank among the least conservative to vote so far this year.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC OPPOSITES: Voters in Tuesday's Maryland and Wisconsin primaries are socio-economic foils, according to exit polls conducted for the Associated Press in each state.
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 26 percent have incomes at that level; only three states so far included fewer high-income voters. And 57 percent of Maryland's Republican voters are college graduates, while the same share in Wisconsin lack a college degree.
In both states, Romney's typical strength among high-income and high-education voters held up, and he expanded his reach among lower-income and non-college educated voters.
In Maryland, Romney carried two-thirds of the vote among those with incomes above $200,000, and led Rick Santorum by 31 percentage points among those who had completed some post-graduate study. For the second time this primary season, a majority of Romney's supporters had household incomes above $100,000.
Wisconsin voters without college degrees leaned toward Romney, while the three-quarters of voters with incomes below $100,000 split about evenly between Romney and Santorum. In Michigan and Ohio, Romney trailed Santorum among this income group.
ROMNEY BOOSTED BY LESS CONSERVATIVE, EVANGELICAL ELECTORATE: But 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" -- and slightly less evangelical -- fewer than 4 in 10 describe themselves that way.
In Maryland, 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.
In Wisconsin, 44 percent said Romney's positions on the issues were not conservative enough while 28 percent called Santorum too conservative.
EXPECTATIONS FOR ROMNEY: All told, 80 percent of 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.
Two-thirds overall said they would be satisfied with Romney atop the GOP ticket, but nearly as many – 60 percent – said they would be satisfied with Santorum as the party's nominee. Among conservatives, half said they would be satisfied with either candidate leading the ticket. Just 21 percent of moderate and liberal voters said the same.
LOOKING AHEAD AND STRONG SUPPORT: 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 tilted toward Santorum. Those who said they would only vote Republican if their candidate won the nomination were most apt to back Ron Paul.
In Wisconsin, a majority of Romney's backers said they strongly supported him, while most of Santorum's supporters said they had reservations about him or were backing him because they disliked their other options.
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, 88 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 1,243 Republican voters interviewed Tuesday as they left their polling places at 25 randomly selected sites in Maryland, and among 2,095 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.