Image: Mitt Romney and his family
Elise Amendola  /  AP
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney waves to supporters at the Romney for President New Hampshire primary night victory party at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012.
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updated 1/11/2012 12:35:32 PM ET 2012-01-11T17:35:32

Mitt Romney won the New Hampshire primary Tuesday night with a broad-based coalition of both conservative and moderate voters overwhelmingly motivated by their worries about America’s economic future and wanting above all to beat President Barack Obama in November.

According to exit poll data, more than a third of voters on Tuesday said the quality that mattered most in deciding their vote was the candidate’s ability to defeat Obama. Romney won an overwhelming 62 percent of those voters.

Regardless of how they voted, 56 percent of Tuesday’s voters thought Romney would be most likely to beat Obama in November; the runner-up in that category was Rep. Ron Paul of Texas with only 15 percent and only 11 percent saw former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman as most likely to defeat Obama.

Even though Tuesday was a Republican primary, independents could request Republican ballots and vote in the primary.

Remarkably, self-described independents accounted for nearly half of all voters Tuesday – a piece of data which has implications for November. Paul won 32 percent of independents, with Romney getting 29 percent, and Huntsman picking up 23 percent of them.

In his 2000 battle with Al Gore, George W. Bush won New Hampshire by 7,211 votes out of a total of nearly 570,000 votes. If Romney is the GOP nominee that would make New Hampshire competitive this fall. Having an appeal to independents would be crucial to his hopes of carrying the state and its four electoral votes.

Recommended: NBC News: Romney wins N.H. primary, Paul second

Among self-described Republicans Romney won a solid 49 percent of them, according to exit poll interviews. The closet contenders with appeal to Republicans were Paul with 16 percent and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with 13 percent.

Huntsman invested heavily in New Hampshire and will likely finish a distant third once all the votes are counted.

Given this, is he the alternative for moderate Republicans? Maybe not: Romney bested Huntsman among self-described moderates, 39 percent to 26 percent.

And based on the New Hampshire exit poll, to whom might anti-Romney conservatives turn? Romney won 42 percent of conservatives Tuesday with Paul finishing second among that segment of voters with 19 percent. Santorum got 15 percent of conservatives.

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Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney addresses supporters in Manchester on January 10, 2012 after seizing a second victory in his fight to be the party's presidential nominee, winning New Hampshire's key primary.
Romney performed best among the highly educated (winning 42 percent of college graduates), among upper income voters, and among older voters.

He did less well among lower income people– winning 31 percent of those earning less than $30,000 a year. Paul did best among that group winning 36 percent of them.

While nearly seven out of ten exit poll interviewees said they were “very worried” about the direction of the nation’s economy in the next few years, only 16 percent said their own family was falling behind financially. Of that “falling behind” group, Romney ran first, winning 32 percent of them to Paul’s 29 percent.

Paul dominated among voters aged 18 to 29, winning 47 percent of them but they accounted for only 12 percent of the electorate, according to exit poll interviews.

Gingrich’s lackluster performance did not seem to bode well for the South Carolina contest – he could not break above 20 percent for any of the age, income, ideological or demographic groups that were identified in the exit poll sample.

Likewise Santorum -- who did very well only among the roughly one-fifth of the electorate who called themselves “very conservative.” Santorum won 26 percent of such voters – but Romney won 33 percent of them.

One surprising finding: Santorum, a Catholic, won only about 8 percent of self-identified Catholic voters, a serious underperformance on his part since Catholics accounted for more a third of the electorate Tuesday. Gingrich, also a Catholic, won 10 percent of Catholic voters, according to exit poll interviews.

Romney, a Mormon, dominated among Catholics winning 45 percent of them.

Video: Romney: Rivals’ attacks a ‘good warm-up’

  1. Closed captioning of: Romney: Rivals’ attacks a ‘good warm-up’

    >> much. mitt romney is with us now from manchester, new hampshire . governor, good morning and congratulations.

    >> thank you, matt.

    >> you know, the analysts are saying this morning, governor, that thing went about as well as they could have gone for you in new hampshire . you won by double digits. ron paul came in second which was a lot better for your campaign than any of the other candidates coming in second. you won early in the evening so you got to make a big speech during the prime hours of coverage, and a lot of conservatives seemed to warm up to you. as many as 42% of the people who voted and labeled themselves as conservative. what else did i leave out?

    >> i'll tell you, it was a great start, matt. there's no question. but with a slim victory in iowa compounded with a big victory in new hampshire , i have a good start. i have an uphill climb in south carolina ahead of me. it could not have worked better last night. that was as big a gift as the people of new hampshire could give us.

    >> how about this? is it a bigger plus that after disappointing finishes, none of your gop rivals is dropping out of the race. so there will be no consolidation of support around one other conservative candidate. they are going to continue to split the vote. isn't that a huge plus for your campaign?

    >> well, you're probably right. the more candidates there are, perhaps the better at this stage. but i take what's given to me, and i was pleased that in new hampshire , as you indicated, the people who call themselves conservative or very conservative supported me by a pretty solid majority.

    >> while the other candidates haven't united around one candida candidate, they have seemed to unite around a way to attack you. that is that they are going after your record as a businessman, as a venture capitalist, your time as ceo of bane capital. they are using words like predator, raider and vulture. you said last night, quote, some desperate republicans, end quote, were attacking the notion of success itself. you said, quote, this is such a mistake for our party and our nation, the country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. do you think some of your opponents have unwittingly turned their backs on the conservative principles that have put them in this position in the first place by attacking the free enterprise system ?

    >> i think you're absolutely right, matt. i think it's something we expected to come from president obama . we didn't expect that newt gingrich and rick perry would become the witnesses for his prosecution, if you will. i don't think it's helped them. for them to be attacking free enterprise and suggest that people should have a limit to how much they can make in their success is something which the democrats have been talking about for years.

    >> is so they are turning their back on core republican principles for their own political ambition?

    >> well, think they think it will be an effective way to garner support. so far it's proven that hasn't worked.

    >> let me ask you about the choice of words last night when you said with we already have a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. i'm curious about the word envy. did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of wall street and financial institutions , anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country is envious? is it about jealousy or fairness?

    >> you know, i think it's about envy. i think it's about class warfare . when you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing america based on 99% versus 1% and those people who have been most successful are in the 1% you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely i consistent with the concept of one nation under god. i believe in the final analysis , the american people with will reject it.

    >> aren't there questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy?

    >> i think it's fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and tax policy and the like. but the president made it part of his campaign rally. everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires, billionaires, executives and wall street . it's an envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and i think it will fail.

    >> let's look at math for a second. it's impossible for any candidate to secure the nomination until april. if your opponents continue these kinds of withering attacks against you, can you survive until april without entering the general election as a dangerously wounded candidate?

    >> well, i actually think, matt, if you can't handle the relatively modest heat coming from republican candidates now you would be in trouble going up against president obama and his decision to put aside the federal campaign election figures and instead put in $1 billion of attack effort. look, i have to be able to handle this or i won't be able to handle president obama . this is a good warm-up.

    >> governor mitt romney who had a big day in new hampshire tuesday. thanks for joining us.

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