Were New Hampshire Independents Really Independent?

The first thing that pops out at you when looking at the New Hampshire exit polls is the large number of independents who turned out to vote. Almost half the electorate in New Hampshire's Republican primary defined themselves as independent (47 percent), while 48 percent said they were Republicans.

Why such a big surge?

First, it's clear that Ron Paul attracts a group of voters that aren't traditional Republican activists. In fact, Paul won the independent vote with 31 percent. Mitt Romney took 27 percent and Jon Huntsman took 23 percent of this group.  Of the 13 percent of voters that said they'd never voted in a Republican primary before today, Paul carried 37 percent of them.

Still, there are also signs that these voters may call themselves independents, but in ideology and past voting behavior they are really more like Republicans.

A huge percentage of these independent voters - 85 percent - say they have voted in a Republican primary before today. Ron Paul carried those voters who said they had never voted in a Republican primary with 37 percent.

Moreover, even as the percentage of independents increased, we didn't see much change in the ideological make-up of the Republican electorate from where it was in 2008.  In 2008, for example, 55 percent of Republican primary voters called themselves conservative or very conservative. This year, 52 percent identify as conservative or very conservative.

In other words, many of these voters who are identifying themselves as independents are really Republicans. Given the surge we've seen nationally in the number of voters who call themselves independents, it's not surprising to see that playing out in New Hampshire as well.

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