Karen Vidal, of Eatonton, Ga., listens as Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during a campaign rally aboard the USS Yorktown Friday, Jan. 20, 2012, in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Carolina's late-deciding voters pushed Newt Gingrich to victory, according to exit polls in the state. The former House speaker's strong performances in the debates leading up to the contest plus a conservative-leaning electorate led to a sizable win for Gingrich.
LATE DECIDERS: A majority of South Carolina Republican voters said they decided on a candidate in the last few days, and they favored Gingrich by a double-digit margin. Santorum and Romney were about even for second among this group.
BROADLY CONSERVATIVE: About 7 in 10 voters in South Carolina said they tilt conservative on most political matters, according to exit polls. That group gave Gingrich a broad advantage over Mitt Romney. Moderate and liberal voters split between Romney and Gingrich.
RELIGIOUS VOTERS: Almost two-thirds of voters in South Carolina said they are born again or evangelical Christians, and about one-quarter said it was deeply important that a candidate share their religious views. Voters in both groups preferred Gingrich to Romney by wide margins.
SEEKING A WINNER: Almost half of voters said the most important trait they sought in a candidate was ability to beat President Barack Obama in November, and these voters favored Gingrich. That's a reversal from New Hampshire and Iowa, where voters prioritizing electability backed Romney. Only around 4 in 10 would support Romney enthusiastically should he win the nomination.
READING THE RESUME: About two-thirds of South Carolina voters said they had a positive impression of Romney's background investing in and restructuring companies, and Romney held a slim edge among those voters. However, he carried less than 5 percent of the vote among those with a negative view of his time as a venture capitalist.
FACING ECONOMIC CHALLENGES: Almost 8 in 10 voters said they were very worried about the future of the nation's economy, and about a third said someone in their household had lost a job since the start of Obama's term. These voters and those who called the economy their top issue tilted toward Gingrich.
These results are from an exit poll conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research as voters left their polling places at 35 randomly selected sites in South Carolina. The survey involved interviews with 2,381 Republican primary voters and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.