2010 Elections Exit Poll Analysis: The Political Price of Economic Pain

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In another question, measuring a key aspect of the movement's message, 56 percent of voters said government "is doing too many things better left to business and individuals," vs. 38 percent who said it "should do more to solve problems."

Still, just 22 percent said they voted to send a message in favor of the Tea Party movement, vs. 18 percent against it; 56 percent called the movement "not a factor" in their vote.

For comparison, in an election likely to be seen as a referendum on the president, 24 percent said they voted to show support for Obama; 37 percent to oppose him. (An additional 37 percent said he wasn't a factor.) George W. Bush was a similar drag on his party in 2006; then voters, by 36-22 percent, said they were casting their ballot to express opposition to Bush, rather than support for him.

The Road Ahead

An interesting challenge for the new Republican leadership of the House will be what to do with the Bush-era tax cuts -- an issue on which voters today were divided. Thirty-nine percent of voters wanted these tax cuts continued for all Americans, but about as many, 37 percent, wanted them continued only for families with incomes under $250,000 a year. The rest, 15 percent favored letting them expire for all.

There's a similar challenge in sorting out priorities on a related issue: While 39 percent said the highest priority for Congress should be reducing the deficit, again about as many, 37 percent, said spending to create jobs should be the highest priority. The rest -- many fewer -- gave top priority to a third choice, cutting taxes.

There were sharp partisan differences here -- among Democrats, 58 percent give priority to spending on jobs; among Republicans and independents, the plurality, 47 percent, favor action on the deficit. And 64 percent of Republicans would continue the tax cuts for all; 51 percent of Democrats, only for less-than $250,000 households. Independents, on this, divide about evenly.

Then there's health care reform: Sixty percent of Democrats want it expanded; 81 percent of Republicans want it repealed, as do 53 percent of independents.

It'll be fun finding middle ground.

State-by-State Look at Key Races:

CALIFORNIA

GENDER: The GOP hoped to attract female voters with their first ever female Senate candidate in California, but incumbent Barbara Boxer won decisively among women -- a key part of her voting coalition -- pulling 55 percent compared to 39 percent for Carly Fiorina. She pulled even among men (49 percent versus 46 percent).

PARTY ID: Democrats have a big edge in voter registration, and with Democrats representing 43 percent of those who showed up at the polls, compared to 30 percent who were Republicans, Boxer had an edge that was difficult to erode. To make up for that advantage, Fiorina needed to win independents big. She did lead there, but narrowly, 47 percent compared to 42 percent for Boxer.

THE LATINO VOTE: Boxer ran strong among Latino voters -- representing 22 percent of the electorate, they went for her by 65 percent to 28 percent. Fiorina won among white voters, 52 percent to 43 percent, but it wasn't enough in an electorate where whites only made up six in ten voters.

EXPERIENCE: Boxer was one incumbent who may have been able to translate her experience into an advantage: overall 53 percent of voters said they preferred an insider who knows how to get things done to an outside who wants to shake things up (36 percent).

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