What a difference a week and a change of scenery make.
Over the past seven days, Republican presidential candidates moved their campaigns from Alabama and Mississippi to Illinois, and exit polls conducted Tuesday at polling places across the Land of Lincoln show a very different electorate. Illinois Republican primary voters were largely suburban, more affluent and less evangelical than their Deep South counterparts, a composition that heavily favored winner Mitt Romney. But, like their Southern brethren, they were likely to say the economy was the most important issue in their vote.
- Nearly seven in 10 Illinois primary voters said they lived in a suburban community, up from 62 percent of Illinois Republican primary voters in 2008. But that also marks a stark contrast with Alabama and Mississippi, where roughly half of primary voters were from rural areas.
- Thirty-seven percent of voters on Tuesday said they made $100,000 a year or more, roughly equal to the 36 percent of voters in that income bracket four years ago. In last week's Southern contests, only around a quarter of voters made $100,000 a year or more.
- Illinois voters were also more educated than they were in Alabama and Mississippi. Roughly half of voters on Tuesday had college degrees, while majorities in the two Southern states did not have colleges degree.
- Roughly four in 10 Illinois voters identified as white, born-again or evangelical Christians, up slightly from 34 percent in 2008. But that is far fewer than in Alabama and Mississippi, where white evangelicals made up at least 75 percent of the electorate in each state.
- Half of Illinois Republican primary voters were between the ages of 45 and 64. People age 65 and older comprised a quarter of the Illinois primary electorate, slightly less than in Alabama (27 percent) and Mississippi (33 percent) last week.
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In other areas, Illinois Republicans more closely resembled their Southern counterparts. Fifty-eight percent of voters in Illinois said the most important issue in their vote was the economy, roughly equal to the percentages who said the economy was paramount in Alabama (59 percent) and Mississippi (56 percent).
A plurality -- 35 percent -- of Illinois Republican primary voters said the most important quality in a candidate was the ability to beat President Obama. That is roughly equal to the results of exit polls conducted last week in Alabama and Mississippi.
Exit polls were conducted Tuesday across Illinois by Edison Research, for the National Election Pool, a consortium of news organizations. The latest results include interviews with 1,555 Republican primary voters.
A wealthier, more urban, and more educated voter base helped the front-runner improve on his weak performance in the Deep South last week.