Associated Press
Voters mark their ballots, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012, during voting in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, at Memorial High School in Manchester, N.H.\r\n

WASHINGTON — The economy was easily the top concern of people voting in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, according to early results of an exit poll of voters Tuesday.

In addition, about a third of them said their main criterion in picking a candidate was finding one who can defeat President Barack Obama in this fall's elections. That was slightly more than said they were seeking a GOP contender with the right experience or with strong moral character. It was also roughly the same proportion who said in last week's Iowa GOP caucuses that they were mainly looking for someone who could oust Obama.

A majority of voters said they're considering the candidates' issue positions more than their personal qualities. And in one measure of voters' overall view of the contenders, about two-thirds said they were satisfied with the GOP field.

Tuesday's exit poll underscored how dominant the economy is as an issue in New Hampshire. About 6 in 10 who voted Tuesday cited the economy as their chief worry, more than twice the number who cited the federal budget deficit, the next most frequently cited concern.

In addition, about 7 in 10 said they were very worried about the direction of the nation's economy, far more than said so four years ago.

Around half of those voting Tuesday consider themselves conservative, compared to 8 in 10 Iowa voters last week. About half in New Hampshire expressed support for the tea party, less than the nearly two-thirds who said so in Iowa.

The survey was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research as voters left their polling places at 40 randomly selected sites in New Hampshire. The preliminary results are based on interviews with 1,774 voters and have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Associated Press global polling director Trevor Tompson contributed to this report.