Exit Polls: Economy, Voter Anger Drive Republican Victory

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Exit poll results collected from voters as they left their voting stations Tuesday underscore the economic distress defining the 2010 election. Eighty-eight percent of voters today say the national economy's in bad shape, nearly as many as the record 92 percent who said so two years ago. Only 14 percent say their own family's financial situation has improved since 2008. And few see much respite: Compounding the political impact of the long downturn, 86 percent remain worried about the economy's direction in the next year, including half who are "very" worried.

Indeed 29 percent say someone in their own household has lost a job in the last two years.

That dissatisfaction pushed voters into the Republican column in a big way. Nearly two of three voters picked the economy as the single most important issue in their vote – and they voted 53-44 percent for Republicans for House. It is the first time, in exit poll since 1992, that economy voters have favored Republicans.

The political impacts are powerful. Seventy-three percent in these exit poll results describe themselves as dissatisfied or even angry (26 percent) about the way the federal government is working – compared with 69 percent in 1994, when the Republicans seized the House, and a whopping 80 percent in 1992, when they lost the presidency.

The differential among angry voters - those favoring Republicans over Democrats - is huge this year – vastly more so than in 1992 or 1994, the previous times the question was asked. Today, those who described themselves as angry voters went 84-14 percent in favor of Republican candidates for the House (+70). In 1994, 73-34 percent in favor of the Republicans (+39). In 1992, 56-36 in favor of the Democrats (+20).

Exit poll results will change as additional data come in. Check ABC News for updates as the evening progresses.

Almost everywhere you look in these exit poll results, you can find evidence of the Republican wave that is the centerpiece of this election.

INDEPENDENTS – It's swing-voting independents who, as usual, made the difference today. Independents favored Republicans for House by a thumping 15 points, 55-40 percent, in the national exit poll. Compare that to Obama's 8-point win among independents in 2008.

If it holds in updates, it'll be the Republicans' biggest win among independents in exit polls dating to 1982 – by a single point. The GOP won independents by 14 points in 1994, the last time they took control of the House.

WHITE CATHOLICS – Like independents, white Catholics are a true swing voter group. They're voting 41-58 in favor of Republicans for House (+17). That closely mirrors their vote in 1994, when Republicans won white Catholics by 55-44 percent (+11).

WOMEN – Women are voting 49-49 percent for Democratic vs Republican House candidates. President Obama won women by 13 points in 2008. This is the best for Republicans among women in national House vote in exit polls since 1982. Young women favor Democrats for the House, (61 percent Democrat to 36 per cent Republican among women 18-29 years old) but the gap closes for the 30-64 age group (64 percent of women), and reverses for women over 65 (41 per cent Democrat vs. 57 per cent Republican). Republican candidates have siphoned off 12 percent of women who voted for Obama in 2008. Democratic candidates have swayed fewer of the women who voted for John McCain, 7 percent.

Republican Wave Widespread; Voters Angry

SENIORS – Seniors account for 24 percent of the vote, their highest in a national House vote in data going back to 1992, and their 19-point margin in support of Republican candidates, if it holds, will be the best such margin among seniors in House vote for the GOP, again in available exit poll data since 1992.

WHITES – Sixty percent of whites are voting Republican for House. If it holds, again it'll be the most in exit polls dating back to 1982. It's worth noting that in the presidential, rather than the House vote Ronald Reagan won more whites in 1984.

CONSERVATIVES – Conservatives account for 41 percent of voters in these results – a high in recent exit polls (exceeded, in available data, only by 43 percent in that Reagan re-election of 1984).

THE WORKING CLASS– In 2008, working-class white men and women (those who make less than $50,000) split about evenly in their House vote. Today they are favoring the Republican candidate - men by a double-digit margin: 55-42 percent; women by 8-points margin, 52-44 percent.

Still, while Republicans scored big victories on Tuesday, there are warning signs for both parties in the exit poll results.

In this data, 45 percent of voters approve of Barack Obama's job performance. Critically, just a third say the administration's economic stimulus program has helped the economy – a harsh judgment after $800 billion has been spent. And the Congress is remarkably unpopular: just 25 percent of voters approve of the way it is doing its job, compared to 24 percent in 2008, 37 per cent in 2006, and 41 per cent in 1998.

Further underscoring general public discontent, just 43 percent of voters express a favorable opinion of the in-power Democratic Party, vs. 53 percent who see it negatively. On the Republican Party, it's essentially the same – 41 percent favorable, 53 percent unfavorable.

The Tea Party Factor

One widely discussed effect of public disenchantment this year has been the rise of the Tea Party political movement. In exit poll results, 41 percent of voters describe themselves as supporters of this movement; 21 percent, support it strongly. Thirty-one percent say they oppose the movement; the rest, 24 percent, are "neutral" about it.

Democrats or independents account for 42 percent of Tea Party supporters. Fifty-eight percent of them are Republicans.

In another question, measuring a key aspect of the movement's message, 56 percent say government "is doing too many things better left to business and individuals," vs. 39 percent who say it "should do more to solve problems."

Still, just 23 percent said they voted to send a message in favor of the Tea Party movement, vs. 18 percent against it; 55 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 36 percent said he wasn't a factor. George W. Bush was a similar drag on his party in 2006; in that election, voters, by 36-22 percent, said they were casting their ballot to express opposition to Bush, rather than support for him.

Exit Polls Reflect Other Issues

In our national exit poll, we asked: Should same-sex marriages be legally recognized in your state? Yes, 40 percent; no, 54 percent. That issue was on the ballot in Iowa, where the result was nearly the same: yes, 38 percent; no, 56 percent.

The economy prevailed as the most important issue, cited by 62 percent, compared with three others listed – health care, 19 percent; illegal immigration, 8 percent; and the war in Afghanistan, 7 percent.

On spending priorities, 40 percent favored deficit-reduction, 35 percent "spending to create jobs," and 19 percent cutting taxes.

In a separate question, voters divided on the Bush-era tax cuts whose possible extension is before Congress. Forty percent said these cuts should be continued for all, vs. 37 percent who say they should be continued only for people in less-than $250,000 households. The rest, 15 percent, said the tax cuts should expire for all Americans.

In another look-ahead question, on the health care law, 48 percent said they favor repeal, vs. 16 percent who said the law should remain as is and 31 percent who said it should be expanded.

More said they think Obama's policies will hurt the country in the long run than help it, 53 to 44 percent.

Voters divided 40-54 percent, approve-disapprove, on the war in Afghanistan.

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