There was a tilt to his vote — his supporters, on the whole, were more affluent than the average Republican and more likely to be somewhat conservative than very conservative. But in the end, he got significant chunks of all wings of the Republican Party. For example, the exit poll found that while strong supporters of the Tea Party were not his strongest group, he won about a third of their votes. He ran ahead of everyone else in this group, which fractured its support among the various alternatives.
Here’s my favorite exit poll finding on the theme of Romney as the man for everyone: Voters were asked whether they preferred elected officials who made compromises to get things done, or those who stuck to their principles no matter what. Jon Huntsman did more than four times better among the compromisers than among the stick-to-principles crowd. Ron Paul, on the other hand, did far better among the stickers than the compromisers. But Mitt Romney did about as well in one group as in the other. Whether you liked principled politicians or compromisers, you liked Romney.
Similarly, where Rick Santorum’s electorate was overwhelmingly conservative on social issues and Huntsman’s significantly more moderate and liberal, Romney did equally well among social conservatives and social moderates.
Huntsman got a surge, but it fell short, allowing Paul to defeat him rather soundly for second place. Huntsman did do far better among those who said they decided in the past few days than among voters who said they decided earlier. But Huntsman had to share those late deciders with Paul, Santorum — and Romney. Indeed, Romney appears to have edged out Huntsman even among the late deciders. Huntsman also needed to win among independent voters who crossed into the Republican primary. He didn’t. He did do better among these voters than among registered Republicans, but he was edged out with the independents by both Paul and Romney. Huntsman hit his stride in the “Meet the Press” debate on Sunday. That turned out to be too late.
My sense is that the largest lost opportunity was Santorum’s. Nearly half of the voters in New Hampshire said they decided in the past few days. As the surge candidate out of Iowa, Santorum might have taken the lion’s share of their votes. He won less than a fifth of them.
New Hampshire proved to be exactly the kind of political fortress Romney hoped it would be. He was well-organized in the state: He did far better than anyone else among voters who said they had been contacted by one of the campaigns. He started with a strong base: Most of Romney’s supporters decided for him relatively early on. And his promise to be the most electable candidate resonated. About a third of the voters said they were looking for the candidate who could defeat President Obama, and in this group of voters, no one came even close to Romney.