Much-Diminished GOP Absorbs the Voters' Ire

A much-diminished Republican president and his party stood before the voters Tuesday, their support corroded by an unpopular war. And the voters let them know it.

Fifty-seven percent in the national exit poll disapproved of the way President George W. Bush is handling his job, 56 percent disapproved of the war in Iraq and 55 percent -- the most since 1994 -- said the country is headed seriously off on the wrong track.

It mattered: Each of these groups voted overwhelmingly for Democrats running for the U.S. House, giving the Democrats a 53-45 percent advantage in national House vote in the exit poll, their best since 1990.

Indeed the Republicans lost huge chunks of crucial voting groups they'd won in recent years. Most important were independents, the quintessential swing voters: They favored Democrats by a huge 57-39 percent, the Democrats' largest margin among independents in 20 years. Democrats won women by 56-43 percent, their best margin since 1986; they even eked out a 51-47 percent tally among men, their best since 1992.

The president and the war were the lightning rods of the election. Among Bush approvers, 84 percent voted for the Republican candidate in House races. Among disapprovers -- the majority of voters -- 82 percent voted for a Democrat.

Another sign of the glum mood: Forty percent said they expect life for the next generation of Americans to be worse, up from 21 percent in 2000 and 33 percent in 1996.

Given such sentiments, voters by a 14-point margin were more apt to say they were voting to show opposition to Bush (36 percent) than to show him support (22 percent). The gap was decisive. House Republicans won voters who were supporting Bush, and also those who said Bush had no impact on their vote. But the anti-Bush voters were great enough in number to make the difference for the Democrats.

The 36 percent who said they were voting to oppose Bush was higher than the 21 percent who voted to show opposition to Bill Clinton in 1998, during the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal; and the 27 percent who did so in 1994, when the Republicans took control of Congress.

In another measure, among voters who said they supported Bush in 2004, 15 percent supported Democrats for House this year. Only about half as many John Kerry supporters -- 6 percent -- voted Republican for House.

Another result shows the direction of the voters' ire: In 1994, 65 percent of disaffected "wrong track" voters voted for Republicans for House. This year, among disaffected voters, even more -- 79 percent -- voted the opposite way, for Democrats.

Similarly, among the 61 percent of voters who said they disapprove of how Congress is handling its job, seven in 10 voted for Democrats for House. In 1994, Republicans won House disapprovers, but fewer of them -- 58 percent.

Groups -- The vote patterns show other problems for the GOP: It was isolated in the South, with the Democrats winning a majority in the Midwest for the first time in a decade. GOP gains among Hispanic voters in 2004 were reversed: This year 69 percent of Hispanic voters favored Democrats for House, up 14 points.

Further:

Young voters, age 18 to 29, voted for Democrats by a huge 60-38 percent margin. That compares to 55-45 percent in 2004, and was its best for the Democrats back to 1986.

College graduates voted 53-45 percent for Democrats -- the Democrats' best margin in this group in exit polls since 1982.

Ten percent of voters decided on their choice just on Election Day -- and 61-36 percent voted for Democrats.

White Catholics voted 50-48 percent for Democrats, their best in this traditional swing group since 1992.

Whites overall voted narrowly Republican, by 51-47 percent, again the best for the Democrats since 1992.

In 2004 married men favored Republicans for House by an 18-point margin; this year it was four points. Married women in 2004 voted Republican by nine points; this year they split about evenly, 49-50. Unmarried men voted for House Democrats by 62-35 percent, compared with 53-44 percent two years ago.

Message -- The voters' message was unmistakable. Just 42 percent approved of Bush's job performance, down 11 points from 2004 and a vast 25 points below its level just before the 2002 midterm election. Forty-two percent "strongly" disapproved, more than double the number of strong approvers (19 percent). Intensity of sentiment by contrast was about equal in 2004 -- 33 percent strongly approved of the president's performance, 35 percent strongly disapproved. And in 2002 it was strong approvers who dominated.

Views on the war in Iraq have followed a similar path. In the 2004 exit poll, 51 percent approved of the war -- just enough to keep Bush out of serious trouble. This year, just 42 percent approved. And 40 percent now "strongly" disapprove of the war, up from 32 percent two years ago.

The Republicans' pushback to concerns about the war in Iraq has been the broader U.S. campaign against terrorism, the issue that won Bush re-election in 2004. This year, it didn't work: Just 29 percent of voters said they trusted only the Republicans to make the country safer, far down from the 49 percent who only trusted Bush to handle terrorism in 2004.

Moreover, among terrorism voters – people who said terrorism is "extremely important" to their vote – the Republicans held only a 53-46 percent advantage. By contrast, the Democrats won by 60-38 percent among people who called the war in Iraq extremely important, and by a nearly identical 59-39 percent who said the same of the economy.

Voters by 59-35 percent also said the war in Iraq has not improved long-term U.S. security; that compares to 52-46 percent in 2004.

Indeed the election looks to have been nationalized around these concerns. Sixty percent of voters said they were casting their House vote mainly on the basis of national issues, vs. 34 percent voting on local issues. But it didn't much matter: Democrats won both groups, albeit "national issue" voters by a wider margin.

States -- A state-by-state analysis of some of the leading Senate races follows:

Connecticut

Remarkably intense negative feelings about Bush and the war in Iraq helped Ned Lamont give Joe Lieberman a run for his money; indeed Lieberman lost overwhelmingly among Democrats. But, extraordinarily, he won overwhelmingly among Republicans, as well as holding the center.

Lieberman, running as an independent after losing the Democratic primary to Lamont, won just 32 percent of Democrats, but 54 percent of independents and 71 percent of Republicans. He also won a majority of moderates (55 percent) and two-thirds of conservatives. Lamont won 70 percent liberals.

Nearly all of Lamont's voters disapproved of Bush and the war, but Lieberman's camp proved more complex. While 51 percent of his supporters disapproved of Bush's job performance, 71 percent of them said he agrees with the president the right amount. And half of Lieberman's supporters disapprove of the Iraq war but voted for the senator despite his support for the war.

Not only did 66 percent of Connecticut voters disapprove of Bush's job performance, but half "strongly" disapproved. Lamont won support from 57 percent of Bush disapprovers, as well as nearly six in 10 of the 66 percent who disapproved of the Iraq war.

Forty-one percent said they voted to express opposition to the president, moreso than in other states; just 14 percent to show support for Bush. Most of the pro-Bush voters (72 percent) voted for Lieberman. Anti-Bush voters -- 80 percent of them -- backed Lamont.

Though the newly independent Lieberman is expected to caucus with Democrats in the next Congress, the 56 percent of voters who want Democrats to control Congress voted broadly (67 percent) for Lamont.

A weakness for Lamont was that 56 percent said he lacks the experience to serve in the Senate; of those who felt that way, 14 percent still voted for him.

Missouri

Souring views of Bush helped Claire McCaskill oust Republican incumbent Jim Talent, in a race in which she accused her opponent of trying to be Bush's "best friend." In 2004, 54 percent of Missouri voters approved of Bush's job performance. Two years later, 45 percent approved.

Moreover, 32 percent of Missouri voters said they were casting their ballots to show opposition to Bush -- 13 points more than the number saying they were showing support for him. They voted overwhelmingly for McCaskill. That alone helped tip the scale to McCaskill; Talent received majority support from those who voted to show support for Bush, or said he wasn't a factor.

In another change since 2004, 51 percent of Missouri voters said they disapprove of the war in Iraq; in 2004, by contrast, 54 percent approved. This too boosted McCaskill.

Critically, independents backed McCaskill 51-43 percent. Sixty-one percent of independents said they disapproved of Bush's job performance; independent voters were 24 points more likely to say they were voting to oppose Bush rather than support him; and 56 percent disapproved of the war in Iraq.

McCaskill won women (who are more apt to be Democrats) by 51-45 percent; Tester won men 51-46 percent.

On the issues, Talent won nearly six in 10 voters who called terrorism "extremely important" in their vote and two-thirds who said so about same-sex marriage or abortion. McCaskill, for her part, countered with six in 10 voters who called Iraq or the economy "extremely important" in their vote.

Endorsed by the Missouri AFL-CIO, McCaskill was strong among union voters, winning two-thirds of them.

Montana

Conrad Burns can blame his own longevity, and a brush with scandal -- not just George. W. Bush and the war in Iraq -- for his defeat in Montana.

Fifty-nine percent of voters said Burns, a three-term incumbent, had been in office too long -- and he lost this group to John Tester by 77-20 percent. And, given his association with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, just 36 percent said Burns has high ethical standards -- while 52 percent said Tester does. Indeed, among the 39 percent who called corruption in government extremely important in their vote, Tester won by a huge 46-point margin.

If that wasn't enough, 52 percent of Montana voters disapproved of Bush's performance (up from just 39 percent in 2004) and 51 percent disapproved of the Iraq war (up from 42 percent in '04). Both were very strong groups for Tester.

Tester won broad support from swing independent voters, winning them by a 24-point margin, 59-35 percent. In 2000, by contrast, Burns lost independents by just five points. Burns also narrowly lost white Catholics, a swing group he carried in 2000. And he suffered a sharp decline among men, winning just 48 percent of their votes, 20 points fewer than in 2000. (Women favored Tester by seven points, about the same as their margin for the Democrat six years ago).

The election may have been more a rejection of Burns and Bush than an endorsement of Tester. More than six in ten said their vote was in support of their candidate and not against his opponent; people in this group split between Burns and Tester. However, among the 34 percent who said their vote was against their candidate's opponent, Tester won the vote by 56-41 percent. 

Likewise, 29 percent said their vote was in opposition to Bush, 21 percent said it was to support Bush and nearly half said Bush was not a factor.  Tester won virtually all the votes among the Bush opposers and Burns won almost all the vote of Bush supporters.  Burns also won by 54 to 43 among the voters who said Bush was not a factor.  The 8 point margin of Bush opposers over supports was enough to be decisive for Tester.

Late campaigning by Bush in Montana did not appear to help Burns much:  An overwhelming 82 percent said they made their vote choice within the last month or earlier. Tester won in this group by 51 to 47 percent.

New Jersey

Disapproval of Bush and the war in Iraq trumped concerns about ethics to rally Democrats around Sen. Menendez in New Jersey.

Of the majority who panned both the president's job performance (65 percent) and the war in Iraq (63 percent), about three-quarters voted for Menendez. The incumbent Democrat also won virtually all (90 percent) of the 52 percent of voters who want Democrats to control Congress next year.

Thomas Kean Jr.'s criticisms took a toll, with 61 percent saying Menendez lacks high ethical standards. But more than a third of those people (34 percent) held their nose and voted for Menendez anyway.

Democrats, Republicans and independents showed up in virtually the same proportions as they did in the 2000 race for this seat. But Menendez enjoyed a more loyal base than his predecessor, winning 92 percent among Democrats (up 7 percent from 2000). And Democrats predominated, accounting for four in 10 voters.

The electorate were somewhat more polarized, with slightly more liberals and slightly more conservatives, but fewer moderates, than in 2000.

Menendez won seven in 10 Hispanic voters, but they're a small group in the state, accounting for fewer than one in 10 New Jersey voters.

Other issues:

The bruising nature of this campaign left a sour taste with voters; 56 percent said both candidates unfairly attacked each other.

Five years after the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 in neighboring New York, nearly eight in 10 voters worry enemies will carry out another major attack in the United States.

New York

Independents and suburbanites broadly supported Hillary Clinton, a shift from 2000 that helped her win a second term by a much larger margin than she won her first.

Sixty-four percent of independents backed Clinton, compared with 46 percent in 2000. And she won 62 percent of suburban voters, compared with just 43 percent in 2000.

Clinton increased her support among Democrats and Republicans alike, but more slightly in both cases. Twenty percent of Republicans supported her, compared with 14 percent in 2000 -- six points better, compared with her 18-point improvement among independents.

Similarly, compared with liberals and conservatives, Clinton gained the most ground --15 points -- among moderates, who backed her by 69-29 percent. She won 28 percent of conservatives, nine points more than in 2000, but seven in 10 conservatives still backed her opponent.

Clinton was helped by broad disapproval of Bush -- 74 percent of New York voters disapproved of his job performance, including 56 percent who disapproved "strongly." These groups voted overwhelmingly for Clinton. Similarly, 72 percent disapproved of the war in Iraq -- and more than eight in 10 of them backed Clinton.

Some other highlights:

New York voters were more likely to say the country is less safe from terrorism today than it was before September 11, 2001 -- 51 percent said so, compared with 42 percent who said the country was safer. Indeed, 76 percent said they were worried that there will be another major terrorist attack in the country.

Fifty-seven percent of New York voters said Clinton would make a good president. Fewer, 46 percent, said so of Giuliani, and just 15 percent said so of Pataki.

Ohio

Ohioans voted heavily against the Republican administration in Washington, resulting in incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine's defeat in his bid for a third term.

Exit poll results found that nearly six in 10 voters disapproved of Bush's performance in office, and 85 percent of them voted for Sherrod Brown. Fifty-six percent voters disapproved of the war in Iraq, up sharply from 40 percent in 2006. And again, among war disapprovers, 82 percent voted for Brown.

Indeed Ohio voters by a nearly 2-1 margin said they were voting to show opposition to Bush (34 percent) as to show support for him (19 percent).

Independents -- the classic swing voters -- broke for Brown by more than 30 points, 65 percent to 35 percent. But Brown also did better in his base, winning 91 percent of Democrats. DeWine had siphoned off a quarter of Democrats in 2000.

Brown even edged DeWine among white voters, 52-48 percent -- a group DeWine won by 2-1 in 2000 -- while Brown won more than eight in 10 black voters, customary for a Democrat. And 68 percent of union households went for Brown; DeWine had won 50 percent of the union vote in 2000, compared to just 32 percent in his defeat this year.

The economy was also a factor for voters: Among Ohioans who said the state's economy is in good shape, 71 percent voted for DeWine; but of those who rated the economy negatively, three-quarters voted for Brown. And Ohio voters were negative rather than positive on the economy by a huge margin, 62 to 37 percent.

Voters who decided in the last three days broke for Brown, 52 percent to 48 percent.

Ethics brought a pox on both houses: About four in 10 voters said neither the Republican nor the Democratic parties had high ethical standards. But only those who said the Democrats had high ethical standards were far more likely to vote for Brown, the Democrat.

Pennsylvania

Exit poll results indicate that Bob Casey Jr.'s victory today was a product of a disgruntled Pennsylvania electorate, dissatisfied with Bush's job performance, and unhappy with the conduct of the Iraq war. Santorum was not able to win the vote among key swing groups in this state. More than six in ten voters disapproved of President Bush and disapproved of the war in Iraq alike. Casey won these groups by 76 and 70 points respectively.

The political independents who voted convincingly for Santorum in 2000 (by a 14-point margin) went overwhelmingly for Casey today - by a 44-point margin. Another group where Santorum suffered was among Pennsylvania's Catholic voters, a traditional swing group. Casey, also a Catholic, won among this group by 59 to 41 percent, compared to Santorum's seven-point victory margin in 2000. Another swing group that swung away from Santorum today is married women, whom he won by eight points in 2000. Today, Casey captured this group's vote by 58 to 42 percent.

Santorum also received significantly less support from white Protestant voters today then he did in 2000. Then he won this group by 21 points; today, by 10 points.

This elections was more a rejection of Santorum and Bush than it was an endorsement of Casey. More than four in ten Pennsylvania voters said their vote today was in opposition to George W. Bush; just 15 percent were voting to show support for Bush. More than one-third also said their Senate vote today was against their opponent rather for their candidate. Casey won by big margins in each of these groups.

Among the several issues which Pennsylvania voters were asked to rate as important in their vote -- economy, values, Iraq, terrorism and illegal immigration -- none stood out as significantly more important than any other. However, the Iraq war did stand out when looking at vote choice. Casey won by a decisive 42-point margin among the 40 percent of voters who said the Iraq war was a "extremely important" issue in their vote.

Rhode Island

Being a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Democratic state -- and one bent on change in control of Congress -- enabled Sheldon Whitehouse to defeat incumbent Sen. Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island. Nearly four in 10 voters (38) percent identified themselves as Democrats, and 84 percent of them voted for Whitehouse. Fewer than two in 10, by contrast, identified themselves as Republicans.

Indeed Chafee won independents -- swing voters in most states -- by 55-45 percent. But it wasn't enough to overcome Whitehouse's huge partisan advantage.

An irony in the outcome is that, even as he lost his office, 63 percent of Rhode Island voters said they approved of the way Chaffee had handled his job as a Senator. What did him in was demand for change: Sixty-three percent of voters also said they wanted the Democrats to win control of the U.S. Senate.

Seventy-five percent of Rhode Island voters disapproved of George W. Bush's job performance -- 56 percent strongly so -- and they voted for Whitehouse by 67-33 percent. Similarly, 73 percent disapproved of the war in Iraq, 52 percent strongly so; and Whitehouse won 65 percent of them.

Women voters mattered as well: Whitehouse won them by 57-43 percent, while men split evenly.

Tennessee

Bob Corker won substantial majority of whites and benefited from a boost in conservative voters to narrowly defeat Rep. Harold Ford in one of the most fiercely contested Senate races in the country. Together, those factors were enough to counter sharply divided views on President Bush and the war in Iraq in this usually reliable Republican state.

Corker claimed 79 percent of all conservatives, who made up 45 percent of the electorate -- a nine-point increase in conservative turnout from 2000. Ford won 63 percent of moderates and even more broadly among liberals, but the size of and strength of the conservative vote told the tale.

Political independents, a traditional swing group, divided about evenly. More than nine in 10 Republicans voted for Corker; and an equally large proportion of Democrats for Ford. The contest was not particularly racially divisive. White voters supported Corker by a 58-41 percent margin - but that's less than the 74 percent of whites vote won by Bill Frist in 2000. More than nine in 10 black voters supported Ford; blacks are a core Democratic group.

Corker's victory was won on the margins. Fifty percent said they disapproved of the job Bush was doing as president and among these, 84 percent voted for Ford. Slightly fewer -- 48 percent -- supported Bush; Corker won 89 percent of their number. Attitudes toward Iraq mirrored the divided views on Bush, who got 57 percent of the vote here in 2000. Fifty percent approved of the war in Iraq, 47 percent disapproved. Among those who approved of the war, 84 percent voted for Corker; opposed to the war, 83 percent went for Ford.

Ford was able to peel off 13 percent of 2004 Bush voters. Corker was less effective in luring Kerry voters, claiming five percent of their vote.

More than four in 10 – 44 percent – said one reason for their vote was to send a message to Bush. But unlike elsewhere in the country, the message these voters were sending was mixed: 21 percent said they had voted to show support Bush while 23 percent said they were signaling disapproval. Nationally, anti-Bush voters outnumbered pro-Bush voters by 15 points.

Indeed Corker may have been hurt by his sometimes controversial attacks on Ford, though a majority of voters criticized both candidates for waging negative, attack-based campaign. Voters were more likely to blame Corker for negative attacks than to criticize Ford. Seventy-five percent said Corker had made unfair attacks on Ford, while 63 percent said Ford had done the same to Corker. Overall, a 56-percent majority said both candidates engaged in unfair attacks.

Finally, Frist, nursing presidential ambitions, leaves with a bit of a razz: Slightly more Tennessee voters said he'd make a bad president (44 percent) than a good one (36 percent).

Virginia

Voters in Virginia narrowly disapproved of the job Bush was doing as president and the war in Iraq in a state that gave 54 percent of its vote to the president six years ago. Fifty-four percent of voters in the Commonwealth disapproved of Bush's performance while 45 percent disapproved; similarly, 52 percent disapproved of the war in Iraq while 46 percent approved.

Views on Bush and the war translated into voting decisions in the Virginia Senate race: 93 percent of all Bush supporters voted for George Allen while a slightly smaller share of disapprovers -- 87 percent -- supported Jim Webb. Among Iraq opponents, 83 percent supported Webb while 90 percent of all war supporters voting for Allen. Virginia voters by 10-point margin said they were casting their ballots to show opposition to President Bush than to show him support.

Allen won 55 percent of the vote in the suburbs who constituted 39 percent of the electorate while narrowly winning among the 26 percent of voters who lived in rural areas or small towns. Webb won six in 10 votes cast by city dwellers. Webb managed to win among Virginia's most affluent residents, a group that Allen had captured handily six years ago. Voters with household incomes of $100,000 or more supported Webb 53 percent to 47 percent. In 2000, it was Allen who won 59 percent of these voters. Webb made critical inroads into another Allen source of support in 2000: white Catholics, who gave Allen 52 percent of their vote Tuesday, a 12-point drop from six years ago.

The exit poll suggests Webb also made gains among independents and moderates while Allen countered with overwhelming support among conservatives. Webb claimed 56 percent support of independents while Allen got 44 percent -- 14 points fewer than the Republican got in 2000. More than nine out of 10 Republicans supported Allen while an equally large proportion of Democrats supported Webb. At the same time, Allen claimed 40 percent of all moderate voters, six points below his showing six years ago. Allen also lost ground among liberals, who voted overwhelmingly for Webb, but held his own with conservatives, a group where Allen held a 7-1 advantage.

Allen won 55 percent of the men's vote while Webb won 55 percent of the women's vote.

Nearly four in 10 voters --37 percent -- said Allen was insensitive to minorities, a charge that surfaced after the "Macaca" gaffe. Among those who believe Allen was racially insensitive, nine in 10 voted for Webb. Somewhat fewer thought Webb was insensitive to women--about three in 10 voters said they did not did not think Webb respected women--and among these voters, nearly nine in 10 voted for Allen. Women were no more likely than men to say Webb was disrespectful of women.

Iraq and personal issues had dominated the Virginia Senate campaign. Webb, a decorated Vietnam veteran who had served as President Reagan's Secretary of the Navy, had been a longtime critic of the war while Allen had supported the president. Forty-two percent of

Virginia voters rated Iraq as "extremely important" to their vote and nearly six in 10 supported Webb. At the same time, 44 percent of voters said terrorism was "extremely important" to their vote and six in 10 of these voters supported Allen.

A key region for Webb: Vote-rich northern Virginia, home to nearly a third of the electorate. There Webb handily defeated Allen 60 percent to 40 percent. Allen had run significantly better in the region six years ago. Allen won in the largely rural Shenandoah Valley and in the southeastern part of the state.

Allen apparently received little help from Amendment 1, which would define marriage only as a union between a man and a woman. Republicans had counted on the amendment to boost turnout among white religious, socially conservative voters. But the exit poll suggested that these voters accounted for about the same proportion of the electorate Tuesday as they did in 2000.

The amendment passed with a comfortable margin, winning nearly nine in 10 Republicans, splitting independents but losing among Democrats. Eight in 10 born-again Christians voted for the amendment. Among those who voted in favor of the amendment, seven in 10 voted for Allen. But among opponents, eight in 10 supported Webb.

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