A coalition of women and nonwhites helped re-elect President Obama to a second term tonight.
Obama has always performed better with women than with men, and with nonwhites than with whites. But tonight those numbers were so much in his favor that they built Obama a powerful firewall against a dropoff in support from white men and independent voters.
Nonwhite voters turned out to vote in higher numbers than ever. They made up 21 percent of all voters. In 1996, they were just 10 percent.
That new bloc was evident in Florida, the perennial swing state that was thought to be in Mitt Romney's corner. Hispanics came out in force for Obama, in greater numbers than in 2008 when Obama beat John McCain among Hispanics in Florida 57 to 42 percent. Today he beat Romney among Hispanics 60 to 39 percent.
And as the country tinted blue for the second presidential election in a row, it also got a little less white.
White voters made up only 72 percent of the electorate in this election, according to exit polls. That's still a majority, but it's the lowest in exit polls dating from 1976.
Mitt Romney won the white vote handily, 58 to 40 percent, the biggest lead for a Republican since 1988.
Romney's most reliant bloc the whole campaign was white men. He led by 25 points with them today. But in 1976, white men were 46 percent of voters. Today they're at a new low, 34 percent.
If white women had stayed in Romney's camp, those swing states -- Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire -- might have moved into his column. Instead, Obama led among women by 12 points, nearly identical to his lead among women four years ago.
In Florida, Obama led Romney by just two points among independents, according to the exit polls. In 2008, that number was seven.
In Ohio, Romney leads Obama by 10 points among independents -- a significant number considering that in 2008 Obama had an 8 point lead over John McCain in Ohio among the same nonaligned voters. But women came to Obama's rescue, keeping him competitive. Exit polls showed Obama with a 12 point lead among women, more than his 8 point lead in 2008.
In Wisconsin, a state that Romney needed badly, Obama's onetime strength among independents appeared to be neutralized. He won independents there by an incredible 19 points in 2008, but preliminary polls now show that Romney fought to a draw with them. However, Obama prevailed among young voters, and other voters there said they favored the auto bailout by 51 to 40 percent, an issue that the president held over Romney in the Midwest.
Obama lost just a few independents in Iowa, but more than made up for it by winning over women, who picked the president over Romney by a double-digit margin.
In Virginia, Romney won independents by 53 to 41 percent. Four years ago, Obama and McCain tied among independents in the commonwealth.
Just like white men, independents make up less of the electorate than they did four years ago.
In a national exit poll, Obama scored better on the economy than Romney probably would have liked.
And Obama's job approval was measured at 52 percent, just a point shy of what President Bush hit during his reelection in 2004. Pollsters had said during the campaign that Obama desperately needed an approval rating above 50 percent to have a chance at reelection.
The results show that more voters say the economy is getting better rather than getting worse.
And four years after Obama was elected, more voters -- 52 percent -- still blame George W. Bush for the weak economy rather than Obama. The exit polls found that 39 percent of voters blamed Obama for the state of the economy.
In Ohio voters widely approved of the auto bailout, 59 to 36 percent, according to exit polls. The bailout was one of Obama's loudest battle cries in the Midwest, most likely because an op-ed Romney wrote called "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" handicapped him among blue-collar voters.
The national exit poll also indicated that Obama ended the campaign on a higher note on several counts. For instance, Obama beat Romney 53 to 43 percent on the question of who is more in touch with the public.