Mitt Romney won a decisive victory in New Hampshire, carrying over 39 percent of the vote, a slightly better result than John McCain’s 37 percent in 2008.
How did Romney pull this victory out? Let’s start by comparing his 2008 share among key demographic groups with his haul this year:
These three metrics give us a reasonably good sense of socioeconomic status. In 2008, Romney won 32 percent of the vote statewide, meaning he improved by 7 percent statewide. As we can see, he improved better than 6 percent among upper income voters, voters with college degrees, and voters in their peak earning years. In other words, he improved mostly among voters on the higher end of the socioeconomic scale.
What about Romney’s ideological coalition? How did it change between 2008 and 2012? The results are interesting.
A surprising twist: Romney did better among Republicans in 2012 than he did in 2008, but he did notably worse among “very conservative” voters. These were his strongest backers in 2008, but this time around they split between Newt Gingrich, who won 17 percent, Ron Paul, who won 18 percent, and Rick Santorum, who won 26 percent.
So, Romney’s voting coalition was slightly more upscale, slightly more Republican, and slightly less conservative than it was in 2008. On net, these shifts brought him about 6 percent more of the vote and a solid win against a divided and weak field.
Interestingly, Romney’s coalition in 2012 was substantially more conservative and Republican than McCain’s was in 2008.
So, while Romney is a centrist candidate, at least in terms of his electoral coalition, he is nevertheless still more conservative than McCain.
So, on we go to South Carolina. Historically speaking, winners in the early contests tend to gain something called “momentum,” which gives them a boost in subsequent state. Why is this?
There are many reasons, but two are apparent from the New Hampshire exit polls. First, a whopping 46 percent of New Hampshire voters said they decided “in the last few days,” despite the fact that candidates have been campaigning there nearly for a year. This is a big deal for Romney moving on to South Carolina, then Florida. Many, if not most, voters in those states are just starting to make their final decisions – and what is on every news channel tonight, then every paper tomorrow? “Mitt Romney – Winner!” You cannot buy that kind of publicity.
But the sort of publicity you can buy is the other big reason. An astounding 72 percent of New Hampshire voters said that the campaign advertisements were a factor in their vote. Among that group, Romney won by 20 points. The candidate who can spend money for a win in one state can usually do so in another state – and that is exactly what Romney has started doing in Florida and South Carolina.
Romney is now the running away favorite to win the GOP nomination, and not just because of momentum. The following was the most startling set of numbers from the exit poll in New Hampshire:
We have heard a lot over the last couple months about the anti-Romney sentiment in the Republican party. However, this statistic suggests that, in New Hampshire at any rate, Romney is the only candidate with whom a majority of the party is satisfied. The rest of the candidates seem to have alienated more than half of the GOP.
That is Romney’s biggest advantage, far and away.