Why Clinton Won

By: by Monika L. McDermott, CBS News Political Consultant
By: by Monika L. McDermott, CBS News Political Consultant

(CBS) Hillary Clinton defied all expectations on Tuesday, winning the Democratic primary in New Hampshire. Despite predictions that Barack Obama was coasting to a strong victory in the state, Clinton held her own among late deciders, beating back the Obama surge and winning courtesy of a significant Granite State gender gap and support from other traditional wings of the Democratic Party.

The Coalitions

New Hampshire women went big for Clinton, supporting her 46 percent to 34 percent for Obama. And as 57 percent of the Democratic primary electorate, women were enough to make the difference. Among men, Obama turned the tables, beating Clinton 40 percent to 29 percent. In third place, John Edwards received 19 percent of the male vote and 15 percent of women's votes.

Clinton pulled together a traditional coalition of Democratic voters for this victory - labor households, voters with relatively low incomes and education, and, of course, women.

Union households, which make up one-fifth of the New Hampshire Democratic primary electorate, voted for Clinton 40 percent to 31 percent for Obama. Among voters with household incomes less than $50,000 a year, Clinton beat Obama by 15 points, and by 18 points among those with no more than a high school diploma.

Similarly, Clinton won the votes of self-described Democrats in this open party primary state. Among those who typically consider themselves Democrats she won 45 percent of the vote to 34 percent for Obama.

For Obama, the generation of new and young voters that propelled him to victory in the Iowa caucuses last week was not there in New Hampshire. While Obama won nearly half of voters who had never voted in a primary election before, these voters made up only 19 percent of the primary electorate.

And while Obama beat Clinton by 60 percent to 22 percent among the youngest voters - those 18 to 24 years old - his advantage among other voters under 40 was much slimmer than seen in Iowa.

Obama did win the independent vote in New Hampshire. He beat Clinton among those considering themselves independents by 10 points - 41 to 31 percent. The rest of Obama's support base in New Hampshire came from the more elite elements of the Democratic electorate. He won the vote of those in households making more than $100,000 a year 41 percent to 36 percent for Clinton. And he won voters with advanced educational degrees by 12 points.

Clinton stemmed the Obama tide in the last three days of the campaign in New Hampshire. While Clinton trailed by 15 points among voters who decided their vote sometime last week, she split the late-breaking vote with Obama- 36 percent and 37 percent respectively.

The Issues

Voters in the primary election were looking for a candidate with whom they agreed on the issues, rather than a candidate whose personal qualities appealed to them. This was likely a key to the Clinton victory.

Economic worry was high among Democratic voters. The top issue for primary voters was the economy, and among the 38 percent who chose it as the most important issue, Clinton beat Obama 44 to 35 percent. Fifty-eight percent said they were "very worried" about the direction of the economy in the next few years. And among the third of voters who said the economy is currently in "poor" shape, Clinton won by 13 points.

Voters most concerned with the war in Iraq - the second most important issue at 31 percent - preferred Obama by 9 points: 44 percent to 35 percent for Clinton. The candidates split voters most concerned with health care, who made up 27 percent of voters.

The Candidates

Voters in New Hampshire believed that Clinton was the candidate most qualified to be commander-in-chief, and that she would be the strongest leader. Voters were more likely to see Clinton as the strongest leader over Obama by 38 percent to 35 percent. And 38 percent said Clinton was the most qualified to be commander-in-chief, compared to only 26 percent who felt that way about Obama.

At the same time, Obama was the candidate primary voters believe was most likely to take them to the White House in November. Forty-four percent of primary voters said Obama would be most likely to beat the Republican nominee in November, compared to 35 percent who said Clinton would. They also felt he was the candidate most likely to unite the country if elected.

On honesty and trustworthiness, voters were divided. Thirty percent said Obama was the most honest and trustworthy, while 27 percent said Clinton was. On this measure, Edwards turned in his strongest performance - 21 percent of primary voters felt he was the most honest.

A majority - 54 percent - said they were looking for a candidate who could bring needed change to the country, and these voters went 55 percent for Obama. But in a race where issues rather than leadership dominated the voters' choices, this characteristic clearly was not enough.

The Shadow

While Clinton may have beaten the other current Democratic candidates, the exit poll shows she would not have beaten her own husband. When asked to choose between their candidate and Bill Clinton - were he allowed to run for a third term - 56 percent of Hillary's supporters chose Bill.

Poll results are based on a National Election Pool exit poll conducted by Edison Media Research. Interviews were conducted with 1,955 Republican primary voters as they entered polling stations around the state. The margin of error for the poll is + 2 percentage points.

Monika L. McDermott is assistant professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, where she teaches and conducts research on voting behavior and public opinion. Before joining the University of Connecticut, McDermott worked in election polling for CBS News and the Los Angeles Times. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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