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.

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