Super Tuesday: Independents Shape The Race In Vermont Primary

A surge in turnout by independent voters helped shape the race in Vermont- potentially complicating life, at least a little, for Mitt Romney, who pulled of a win in Vermont despite lackluster support from Independent voters.

Forty-one percent GOP primary voters in the state described themselves as Independents, vastly higher than the 23 percent of independents voting in the state's open primary in 2008. And this year 40 percent of those independent voters supported Ron Paul, versus 28 percent for next-state neighbor Romney.

Romney came back with broad support among the nearly half of Vermont voters who are Republicans. But the results raise some questions about his ability to inspire his loyalists to come to the polls, at least in snowy Vermont.

A third of voters in Vermont picked electability - being able to defeat Barack Obama in November - as the most important candidate attribute in their vote, and nearly six in 10 of them voted for Romney. So did more than half of the voters looking for the right experience. Still Romney, former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, showed important vulnerabilities:

  • Asked which candidate best understands the problems of average Americans, 33 percent picked Paul, versus the 28 percent that chose Romney.
  • Among the one in four voters who called "moral character" the most important attribute in their vote, 42 percent voted for Paul and 40 percent for Santorum, while just 15 percent for picked Romney.
  • And those looking chiefly for a true conservative - albeit just one in seven voters - also picked Paul and Santorum by wide margins over Romney, giving them 40 percent and 34 percent respectively, versus 12 percent for Romney.

Nearly six in 10 Vermont GOP primary voters picked the economy as the most important issue in their vote, and they voted for Romney over other candidates. But among the roughly one in four who thought the federal budget deficit was the most important issue, Paul ran evenly with Romney. And while Romney did well with voters making more than $50,000 a year, Paul, again, was competitive with him among the less well-off.

Two other factors worked in Romney's favor: "Very" conservative voters, a group in which he's struggled, made up 18 percent of the voters in Vermont, their lowest share in any state to date. And 27 percent of Vermont voters were evangelicals, another more difficult group for Romney - fewer than anywhere but New Hampshire.

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