Mitt Romney’s New Hampshire victory Tuesday night has made his march to the Republican party's presidential nomination all the more difficult to stop.
But New Hampshire in 2012 also gave Mr. Romney the opportunity to exorcise the ghosts of his 2008 loss in the same state.
Not only did he achieve that, the 'Massachusetts moderate', as he is derided by his opponents, gained new constituencies along the way: evangelicals, conservatives, and a cross-section of age and income groups he struggled to win over four years ago.
In that year’s primary, Mr. Romney finished second place with 32 per cent support compared to John McCain’s 37 per cent support.
This time, Mr. Romney beat a divided field with 39 per cent support and the second place candidate, Congressman Ron Paul, by a margin of nearly 16 points.
Whichever way you cut it, that is a strong win. And a closer look at the exit polls shows that Mr. Romney won practically every group - with a few exceptions - whether it is age, income, political identification, and religion.
And to compare, here is the exit poll for New Hampshire from 2008.
In New Hampshire, exit polls indicate that voters were divided in two political groupings. Independent voters who propelled Mr. McCain to victory in 2008 once again accounted for nearly half of voters, while the other half self-identified as belonging to the Republican party.
A quick comparison:
On Tuesday night: Mr. Romney crushed his rivals among Republican voters with 49 per cent support, Mr. Paul with 16 per cent support, Rick Santorum (the winner of last week’s Iowa caucuses) with 13 per cent, Newt Gingrich with 12 per cent, Jon Huntsman with 10 per cent support, and Rick Perry with 1 per cent.
In 2008: Mr. Romney had 35 per cent of support among New Hampshire Republicans, according to exit polls.
On Tuesday night: Mr. Romney had a good showing among independent voters winning 29 per cent of the vote. But it was Mr. Paul who won that category with 32 per cent of voters.
In 2008: Mr. Romney had 27 per cent support of independent voters, and while they did not flock to him in 2012 the way they flocked to Mr. McCain in 2008 who won 40 per cent of independents at the itme, the fact is that the independent vote was split between Mr. Romney, Mr. Paul, and Mr. Huntsman and therefore did not singlehandedly decide Tuesday night’s vote.
Count on Democrats to make a meal of Mr. Romney’s ‘poor’ showing among independents. President Barack Obama is looking to win back independents in 2012. Those independent were key to his 2008 victory and they, along with so many Americans, are not happy with his handling of the economy.
But Mr. Romney’s New Hampshire victory also yields some other interesting details: he beat his rivals among Tea Party supporters, evangelical Christians and Catholics. Mr. Santorum who carried social conservatives to a second place finish in the Iowa caucuses was not able to get those constituencies to coalesce around his candidacy.
Among income and age groups, more reasons for the Romney camp to feel encouraged:
By income group
In 2008: Mr. Romney had to share the high-income voters with Mr. McCain, while trailing Mr. McCain among middle-income and low-income voters.
In 2012: Mr. Romney won high-income and middle-income voters but among those voters earning less than $50,000, Mr. Romney tied Mr. Paul with 31 per cent support.
By age group
In 2008: Mr. Romney trailed among all age groups to Mr. McCain except in the over 64 category.
In 2012: Mr. Romney won all the age groups except the 18-29 age group, which went overwhelming to Mr. Paul.
This year, an overwhelming number of voters were concerned about the economy and a candidate’s electability. On both factors, Mr. Romney pulled the vast majority of voters in New Hampshire on Tuesday night.
On the question of what voters thought to be the most important quality in a candidate: 35 percent said a candidate who could defeat Mr. Obama, 26 percent said a candidate with the right experience, 22 per cent said a candidate with a strong moral character, and 13 per cent said a candidate who is a true conservative.
Mr. Romney won the support of voters who most valued electability and experience, but it was Mr. Paul who carried the support of voters who valued strong conservative credentials and moral character.