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Romney rides electability to NH win; exit polls show broader coalition provides boost
Mitt Romney won New Hampshire's Republican presidential primary by building on the strengths that carried him to a narrow victory in Iowa and bringing in a broader coalition of tea party supporters and conservatives, according to exit polls.
THE ECONOMY: New Hampshire voters were more apt than Iowa caucus-goers to say the economy was the most important issue in deciding their vote, and the issue was again Romney's best. Among the six in 10 voters who called it their top issue, Romney more than doubled the support of his nearest competitor. Romney and Ron Paul split the votes of those calling the federal budget deficit their top issue. Health care was cited as a top concern by just 5 percent.
LOOKING AHEAD: As in Iowa, Romney's argument that he is the most electable candidate buoyed his candidacy in New Hampshire. He carried the votes of those who said their most important consideration was finding a candidate who could defeat President Barack Obama in November. A majority of voters said they would be satisfied if Romney became the party's nominee, while majorities said they would be dissatisfied with Newt Gingrich, Paul or Rick Santorum.
IOWA TROUBLE SPOTS: Romney carried New Hampshire's conservatives and tea party supporters ' both groups he failed to win in Iowa ' and held a 10-point advantage among those who made up their minds in the last few days of the contest.
REGISTERED INDEPENDENTS: Voters who are registered as independents or who have not chosen a party made up more than 4 in 10 voters this time around compared to about a third in 2008. These voters split between Romney and Paul, with Jon Huntsman in third. Romney carried registered Republicans by more than 30 percentage points. Unaffiliated voters in New Hampshire can choose to participate in either party's primary; there was not a contested Democratic primary this year.
RELIGION: Santorum and Gingrich failed to gain traction among their fellow Catholics; Romney carried the group with more than 40 percent of the vote while no other candidate broke 20 percent. Romney held a narrow edge among the state's evangelical voters; they made up about 1 in 5 voters.
AD WARS: Most New Hampshire voters said campaign advertising was not a major factor in their vote. Voters were divided on which candidate ran the most unfair campaign, with about a quarter each saying Gingrich and Romney were the worst offenders.
GETTING OUT THE VOTE: About half of New Hampshire GOP voters said they were contacted by the campaign of the candidate they voted for, with most of those reached by the more traditional mail or phone than by email or text message.
The exit poll was conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks by Edison Research as voters left their polling places at 40 randomly selected sites in New Hampshire. Preliminary results include interviews with 2,760 voters and have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.