To no one’s surprise, Mitt Romney won the New Hampshire Primary, with turnout just a tick above the allegedly dispirited showing four years ago. Where’s the Republican enthusiasm advantage? Apparently not in the Granite State. We’ll have to watch turnout in the subsequent meaningful primaries. Four years ago, the massive turnout in the Democratic primaries was a harbinger of good things to come for that party. Romney’s not the kind of candidate who can come close to duplicating the once-in-a-lifetime Obama ’08 experience, but he’ll need all the help he can get to defeat a very well-financed incumbent.
Second and third went to Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. The lowish turnout surely helped Rep. Paul. As one observer has noted, the exit polls showed that Amb. Huntsman did best among “those who consider themselves Democrats, those who strongly oppose the Tea Party, those who are satisfied with Obama, and those who are dissatisfied with the GOP candidates.” This is not a winning constituency in any Republican primary, and would seem not to be a terribly strong constituency facing the President in the fall. I’m tempted to think (as was once said about John B. Anderson, for whom I worked on Capitol Hill) that Huntsman is running for a college or foundation presidency, rather than for the White House.
Ron Paul does best among those who are young, unmarried, relatively less well-educated, relatively less well off, and religiously unaffiliated (though, to be sure, Romney finished ahead among all those groups except for the young and the religiously unaffiliated). His support among those who describe themselves as somewhat liberal or moderate is higher than among those who call themselves conservative. I suspect that that support is a function of Paul’s “isolationism” and his social libertarianism (which doesn’t extend to abortion, though he came in second to Romney among those who consider themselves moderate or liberal on abortion).
Another way of thinking about the appeal of Ron Paul is that he represents himself as a man of consistent principle, which is something that young people especially find attractive. Some of us age out of that, appreciating nuance, complexity, and tensions, as well as the need for prudence, at least on some issues. Will Ron Paul’s current supporters remain men and women “of principle” into their seventies, or will life experiences (like marriage and parenthood) lead them to different views. This won’t, of course, happen before November, so the immediate question is what becomes of the Paulists in the general election/Will they vote for the Republican nominee, a third party candidate, Obama, or not at all? A consistently high proportion of Paul’s New Hampshire supporters said they wouldn’t be satisfied with any other candidate. Can anything be done to change that?
Rick Santorum’s relatively disappointing performance probably took some of the air out of his balloon. He did well among social conservatives, but not among other groups. South Carolina will be different, with a larger “socon” constituency from which to draw, but there’s some tension between rallying that base and broadening one’s appeal. What’s more, as Jim Geraghty points out, Mitt Romney is ahead in the polls or has in the past won each of the next four states.
One last point: the 22% of the respondents who described themselves as evangelical or born again gave 76% of their votes to Catholics or Mormons, which is pretty close to the 45% of those who said they were Protestants (78%) and to the 35% of those who said they were Catholics (81%). The 13% who claimed no religious affiliation gave a significant plurality (47%) of their support to Rep. Paul, and a bare majority to the four Catholic or Mormon candidates. In other words, no religious group played identity politics; indeed, on 19% of the self-identified Catholics supported Catholic candidates. Indeed, the most self-consciously Catholic candidate, Rick Santorum, did significantly worse among Catholics (8%) than among evangelicals (23%).