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New Hampshire exit poll: Almost half made choice late

A voter cast his vote in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Nearly half of the New Hampshire voters who have voted in today's Granite State Republican primary decided who to support in the last few days, according to early CBS News exit polls.

Nineteen percent of voters said they made their choice just today, and another 27 percent said they decided in the last few days. Fifty-three percent said they made up their minds before that.

Full New Hampshire primary results
Republican Primary Election Center

A majority of voters - 60 percent - cited the economy as the most important issue to them. Twenty-five percent cited the budget deficit, 6 percent pointed to abortion, and 4 percent cited health care. Ninety-four percent of GOP primary voters said they are at least somewhat worried about the nation's economy, including 69 percent who are very worried.

Asked the most important quality in a candidate, GOP primary voters were most likely to point to the ability to defeat President Obama, which was cited by 33 percent of GOP primary-voters. Twenty-seven percent said they wanted a candidate with the right experience, 24 percent wanted someone with strong character, and 14 percent wanted what they considered to be a true conservative.

While 67 percent of New Hampshire GOP primary voters said they were satisfied with the candidates in the field, 31 percent said they were unsatisfied.

Asked whether issues or a candidate's qualities are more important in their vote, GOP primary voters pointed to the former. Fifty-seven percent said a candidate's position on the issues was the paramount concern, while 40 percent said a candidate's leadership and personal qualities mattered more.

The full exit poll results will be available here at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, when polls close in New Hampshire. You can see results from the primary, which will be updated throughout the evening, here.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination who has a summer home in New Hampshire, is heavily favored to win the state. He entered Tuesday's primary day polling about 20 points ahead of his nearest rivals, Libertarian-leaning Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

But even if he wins, Romney could be stung if he falls short of expectations. If Romney takes the state but his margin of victory is in the single digits, for instance, his triumph will largely be seen as a loss. Romney has borne the brunt of aggressive attacks from his rivals in recent days over his record at venture capital company Bain Capital, with Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and others characterizing him as a ruthless corporate raider unconcerned with the layoffs the company sometimes instituted after taking over a struggling company. He also made a pair of gaffes, including stating that he liked to be able to "fire people" during remarks about the importance of being able to choose between health care providers.

For Huntsman, who has seen his poll numbers inch up in recent days, anything less than a strong second-place finish may mean the end of his campaign. Huntsman, who has a reputation as a moderate, skipped the Iowa caucuses to focus on New Hampshire, with the hope that he will do well in the state due in part to the fact that independents can vote in the state's GOP primary.

Jon Huntsman: "I'm a scrapper. I'm a fighter"

Rick Santorum, who finished in a virtual tie with Romney in the Iowa caucuses, has hoped the victory would result in a surge in the polls in New Hampshire. Yet the GOP electorate in the Granite State, one of the least religious and most independent-minded in the nation, is a poor match for the socially-conservative former senator, who is expected to make a strong push in the January 21 primary in more socially-conservative South Carolina.

For Paul, meanwhile, a second-place finish would be helpful - but unlike for Huntsman, it's far from crucial. That's because no matter what happens, the antiwar, free-market proponent has a passionate group of supporters poised to offer financial support to allow him to remain in the race and attempt to build up delegates over the long haul.

Gingrich, who initially vowed to run a positive campaign, has turned nasty toward Romney, seemingly in response to the attack ads run by Romney's allies that helped torpedo Gingrich's chances in Iowa. Gingrich predicted Romney would fall short of expectations in the state that is supposed to be his stronghold, predicting that for Romney, "I don't think it's going to be much of a fortress."

Rivals aim to chip away at Romney as N.H. votes

Full coverage: Campaign 2012

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