Nevada entrance poll: Romney wins big

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michael Barone

Here’s the entrance poll for the Nevada caucuses, showing Mitt Romney with 55% of the vote, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul each with about 18% and Rick Santorum with 7%. This looks like a solid Romney victory, with a real battle between Gingrich and Paul for second place. A third place finish would be demoralizing for Gingrich, particularly if it’s combined with a win or strong second for Santorum Tuesday in the non-binding primary in Missouri, where Gingrich did not qualify for the ballot.  

Religion. Mormons constituted 26% of the electorate, and 91% of them voted for Romney. Non-Mormons seem to have preferred Romney over Gingrich by 42%-26%, a margin similar to that in Florida, with 23% for Paul, much more than he received in Florida.

Demographics. As in other contests, Paul does much better among young voters, while Gingrich does much better among older voters. Paul also does better than average among non-college voters, low income voters,

Ideology. Romney carried very, somewhat and all conservatives, and was presumably helped by many Mormons characterizing themselves as some brand of conservative (who constituted 83% of caucusgoers). Interestingly, Romney got the same 51% among very conservatives on the one hand and those who characterized themselves as moderate or liberal. Romney also carried strong, somewhat and all tea party supporters (74% of caucusgoers), and white evangelicals (23% of caucusgoers). Self-identified Independents favored Ron Paul over Romney 48%-31%.

Geography. Romney leads in Clark County with 63% of the vote, to 17% for Paul and 14% for Gingrich. This presumably doesn’t include the one precinct being kept open late to accommodate Jewish voters who felt bound not to vote until after sundown. Clark County includes Las Vegas and 70% of Nevada’s population; it is more Democratic than the rest of the state and cast just 55% of the votes here.  Since Clark County reports late, we can expect Romney’s percentage to rise there. Washoe County, which includes Reno, cast 22% of the vote and went 42% for Romney, 27% for Gingrich and 23% for Paul. In the rest of the state, sometimes referred to as the Cow Counties, went 48% for Romney, 26% for Gingrich and 21% for Paul.  

One additional point. It has been speculated that Romney will be hurt by saying that housing prices need to fall to a bottom. But that doesn’t seem to have hurt him at all in Clark County, Nevada, which has the highest percentage of houses under water of any large metro area in the nation.

UPDATE: One more thought. Among the 44% of Nevada caucusgoers who said that "can defeat Obama" was the most important candidate quality (as against "strong moral character," "truce conservative" and "right experience," which got 16% to 20% each), Romney led Gingrich by an overwhelming 74%-18% margin. Contrast this to South Carolina, where those who chose "can defeat Obama" favored Gingrich by a 51%-37% margin. That's a metric that gives you some idea of how poorly Gingrich has performed in debates and public appearances in the 14 days from January 21 to February 4.

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