COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio voters divided along ideological lines between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum on Tuesday, according to early results from an exit poll in the state. Voters were focused on finding a candidate who could defeat President Barack Obama in November, and nearly two-thirds said they were committed to backing the eventual Republican nominee no matter who wins.
Voters who listed the economy as a top issue favored Romney over Santorum by about 10 points, with a smaller lead for Romney when it came to voters who listed the federal deficit as their chief concern. Romney's advantage on the economy was slimmer than in any previous state except for South Carolina. Fiscal conservatives were about evenly divided, although Santorum carried the "very conservative" by a single-digit margin.
Those voters who called themselves very conservative on social issues favored Santorum by more than a 30-point advantage over Romney. Those who described themselves as born again or evangelical Christians also favored Santorum, as did those who said it matters a great deal if a candidate shares their religion.
Voters who said abortion should be illegal in all cases supported Santorum, while Romney had at least a slight edge among those with other opinions on the matter.
Neither candidate had an edge in tea party support, and only about four in ten of each candidate's backers said they strongly favored their choice.
About four in ten called a candidate's ability to defeat Obama the most important quality guiding their decisions: a narrow majority said Romney has the best chance to beat Obama.
Almost all voters expressed dissatisfaction with the federal government, including more than one in three voters saying they were angry about the way Washington is working.
The economy was on the minds of many, with nearly all voters saying they were worried about the direction of the country's economy over the next few years. More than eight of ten voters identified either the economy or the federal deficit as the issues that mattered the most in how they voted Tuesday.
While almost two-thirds of the state's voters said they are conservative, more said their views are conservative on fiscal issues like taxes than on social issues such as abortion.
Many voters said they were undecided on a candidate until recently, with more than half saying they didn't decide on a candidate until the last few days or weeks.
Just about three in 10 voters said this year's campaign was more negative than previous presidential contests. Most said it was about the same and one in seven called it more positive.
Preliminary results from the Ohio exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks by Edison Research are based on interviews with 1,848 voters, including 410 absentee or early voters who were interviewed by phone before the primary. Election-day voters come from a random sample of 40 precincts. The survey's margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.