Mitt Romney won by a wide margin in Virginia, in a low turnout contest with just one opponent, Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.)

According to network exit polls, some turnout patterns indicate notable changes from the 2008 Republican primary, with votes among key groups keeping Paul in the game.

Partisanship played a big factor. Nearly a third of voters identified as independents, up 11 points from four years ago. Those voters picked Paul by nearly a 2 to 1 margin, 64 to 36 percent. Romney dominated among Republicans however, winning by 73 to 27 percent.

Ideology: Romney and Paul split the moderate and liberal vote, 50 percent each. Two-thirds of voters identified as conservative and they picked Romney by a wide 64 to 36 percent.

Age: Around one in 10 voters was under age 30 in Virginia, similar to 2008 and about on par with other Super Tuesday states. They voted for Paul by 61 to 39 percent. Young voters have been one of Paul’s strongest groups. Perhaps surprisingly, voters aged 30 to 44 also favored Paul by 63 to 37 percent. He hadn’t won this group in any other state so far. Romney was much stronger among older voters, especially seniors -- over eight in 10 voted for him.

Conservative weakness for Romney: Despite the fact that Romney did well among conservative voters, there are lingering markers that could haunt him in a general election match up in November should he be the nominee. Romney lost badly to Paul among voters who are looking for a candidate who is a “true conservative” or someone with a “strong moral character.”

These are preliminary results of a poll of Republican voters as they exited primary voting places in Virginia on March 6, 2012. The poll was conducted by Edison Media Research for the National Election Pool.

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