Romney eked out a narrow victory in the Ohio Republican primary on Tuesday. The CBS News exit poll of Ohio Republican primary voters showed that Rick Santorum’s coalition of crossover Democrats and socially conservative voters was not quite large enough to offset Mitt Romney’s base of ideogically moderate voters. Romney’s draw, once again, centered on his electability and his attractiveness to voters prioritizing economic issues.
Democrats Failed to Disrupt the Party
Crossover Democrat voters nearly secured a victory for Santorum in the Ohio Republican primary, just like they almost did in Michigan a week earlier. Ohio is an open primary state where voters of all stripes can cast ballots. On Tuesday, 5 percent of those turning out for the Republican contest identified themselves as Democrats. These Democratic voters overwhelmingly supported Santorum over Romney 47 percent to 27 percent. If these Democratic voters had not cast ballots in the Republican primary, Romney would have won Ohio by roughly a 3-point margin.
Won The Support of Voters Prioritizing Electability and the Economy
Romney ultimately won the Ohio Republican primary on the ballots of ideologically moderate voters. A third of voters identified themselves as somewhat conservative, while another third identified themselves as moderate or liberal. Romney comfortably won both groups, defeating Santorum amongst somewhat conservatives 40 percent to 34 percent and amongst moderates/liberals 43 percent to 29 percent.
As it has in most of the primaries to date, Romney’s appeal was grounded in his perceived electability and positions on economic issues. A sizable plurality of voters overall – 42 percent – indicated that the ability to defeat Barack Obama in November was the candidate quality that mattered most in deciding how they voted, topping by a more than 2-to-1 margin the 21 percent of voters who cited moral character, the 17 percent who cited experience, and the 17 percent who cited conservative credentials. Of those indicating electability was their top candidate trait, Romney was preferred to Santorum by a sizable 52 percent to 27 percent margin.
Romney’s emphasis on the economy and jobs in Ohio – repeatedly telling crowds on the campaign trail “the economy is what I do” – also paid dividends. The economy was the most important issue to voters in the state, cited by 54 percent of voters. Of those who identified the economy as the issue that mattered most in their vote, 41 percent cast ballots for Romney as opposed to 33 percent for Santorum.