ANALYSIS By MOLLYANNE BRODIE, SCOTT CLEMENT, PEYTON CRAIGHILL, CLAUDIA DEANE, BRIAN HARTMAN, GARY LANGER, RICH MORIN, PATRICK MOYNIHAN, and ROBERT SHAPIRO
An astonishing number of voters went to the polls anxious -- worried about health care, upset with the current president, opposed to the war in Iraq and deeply concerned that the nation's economy is veering off the rails.
Preliminary exit poll data finds a remarkable 75 percent say the country is headed seriously off on the wrong track. That's up from 46 percent in 2004, 31 percent in 2000 and 43 percent in 1996.
Eighty-five percent of voters said they were worried about direction of the nation's economy, and half of them were very very worried. Why are they worried? Because 81 percent worry the economic crisis is going to harm their family finances. If there's any optimism in these numbers, it's that a lucky few -- 24 percent -- say they're better off than four years ago.
But worries extend beyond the economy. Nearly seven in 10 voters say they're worried about being able to afford health care. Six in 10 disapprove of the war in Iraq. Seven in 10 disapprove of how both President Bush and the Congress are doing their jobs.
That's a strong headwind for John McCain, the flagbearer of the incumbent party. And it's not helped by the 60 percent of voters who say his vice presidential pick, Sarah Palin, is not qualified to be president.
Voters were also more likely to say McCain attacked Barack Obama unfairly -- 65 percent said so, though about half said Obama's hands were dirty on this front as well.
And many voters are expecting to government to dig deeper into their pocketbooks no matter who wines. About half -- 48 percent -- say their taxes will rise under either Obama or McCain. Despite McCain's push on the issue, just 22 percent think only Obama would raise their taxes.
There's a real enthusiasm gap. More than half -- 56 percent --of Obama's supporters are "excited" about the prospect of his becoming president. Among McCain's supporters, just 28 percent are excited.
With that weighing on their minds, about one in 10 voters waited til nearly the last minute -- making their decision in just the last week. The campaigns fought hard to win their votes. A third of all voters say they were contacted by one or both campaigns.
With a black candidate running for the president, turnout of black voters as a percentage of the national vote was at 13 percent, slightly higher than in 2004.
We've also had a chance to review some the exit poll data in the most hard-fought states. Note this is preliminary exit poll data and will be updated throughout the evening. Here's a look at what we're seeing so far. The analyses are organized below by poll close.
Keep checking back throughout the evening. We'll update each state with a more detailed look at the voters and their motivations of voters in a state after the polls close and more up-to-date exit poll data comes in.
Our list of battleground exit polls to watch is ordered by poll close.
Polls Closing at 7 p.m. ET:
Neither candidate has pulled many punches in this bruising campaign, particularly not in battlegrounds like Virginia.
But more voters said John McCain's attacks seemed more unfair. Almost three quarters of voters, according to preliminary exit poll data, say McCain unfairly attacked Barack Obama while half said Obama unfairly attacked McCain.
The campaigns also covered a lot of ground in the Old Dominion. More than half of voters were personally contacted by an Obama campaign worker while a third were contacted by the McCain campaign. A quarter of voters were contacted by both.
And in keeping with pre-election polls throughout the country, economic troubles dominated voters' minds as they voted today.
In Virginia, six in 10 said the economy was their top voting issue, followed far behind by Iraq and terrorism, the major concern of just one in 10 voters.
This election also has proved exciting enough to draw new voters into the process. First time voters made up about a tenth of the electorate.
The 'Real' Virginia: The Obama campaign seized on a John McCain operative's dismissal of the area near the nation's capital in the north of the state as somehow removed from "the real Virginia" -- the more conservative areas in other parts of the state. How deeply these divisions play out will be telling.
Voter Contact: The campaigns also covered a lot of ground in the Old Dominion. More than half of voters were personally contacted by an Obama campaign worker while a third were contacted by the McCain campaign. A quarter of voters were contacted by both.
Economy: And in keeping with pre-election polls throughout the country, economic troubles dominated voters' minds as they voted today. In Virginia, six in 10 said the economy was their top voting issue, followed far behind by Iraq and terrorism, the major concern of just one in 10 voters.
In the past a reliably Republican state, pre-election polls this fall showed John McCain in a tough fight here. This is in part the result of a competitive Democratic primary in the state which energized the party.
But Democrats made a real effort in Indiana this year, with four in 10 voters saying they were contacted by Barack Obama's campaign compared with one in five contacted by McCain.
Indiana is just one of the hotly contested states in this election that form the industrial backbone of the nation, but it's the first of these rust belt states to finish voting tonight. Nine in ten Hoosiers give the current economy bad ratings, and just as many worry about direction of economy over next year.
Economy: Indiana is just one of the hotly contested states in this election that form the industrial backbone of the nation, but it's the first of these rust belt states to finish voting tonight. Nine in ten Hoosiers give the current economy bad ratings, and just as many worry about direction of economy over next year.
Working Class White Voters: Nine out of 10 voters have been white in recent elections, and here in the heartland of manufacturing a good number of them are working class, earning less than $50,000 a year. In 2004, working class whites were 36 percent of voters and they favored Bush over Kerry by 16 points -- 58 percent to 42 percent. But will these voters cast their lot with a black candidate? In the Democratic primaries, one in 10 said race was important and 78 percent of them voted against Obama.
Conservatives: Voters have been more conservative here than in the rest of the country. In 2004, 42 percent conservative, compared with 34 percent nationally. It will be worth watching whether McCain, who was not exciting this GOP base group before he picked Sarah Palin, will draw his wing men (and women) to the polls.
Economy: Economic issues are paramount to voters everywhere this year -- but particularly in Ohio. With at least half a million residents out of work, the state's highest unemployment rate in 16 years, six in 10 voters named the economy as their top issue in this preliminary exit poll. Nine out of ten say they are worried about the direction of the economy.
Party: In 2004, 40 percent of voters identified themselves as Republicans. This year -- that dropped to 30 percent. It was the lowest Republican turnout on record in the state of Ohio. And Obama won the 29 percent of independents, that critical swing group, by a 52-45 percent margin.
Working Class Whites: White voters who earn less than $50,000 a year were a weak group for Obama in the Democratic primary, but he turned them around in the general election. They made up 34 percent of the vote -- their smallest proportion since 1984 and they voted for Obama over McCain 52-45 percent.
Economy: With at least half a million residents out of work, the state's highest unemployment rate in 16 years, six in 10 voters named the economy as their top issue. Obama won them 55-45 percent. About as many said they are very worried about the direction of the economy and Obama won them by an even wider margin -- 61-38 percent. Whites who cite the economy as their top issue split evenly between Obama and McCain - moving him to the best showing among whites in Ohio for a Democrat since 1996.
Time of Decision: A month before the election, our polling found nearly one in five voters had not yet made up their minds for sure. And this is one of the states that McCain decided to contest right down to the wire. Given the fierce battle for this state, also look at whether voters say they were personally contacted by either campaign. In our pre-election polling, 37 percent of registered voters said they had been personally contacted by the Obama campaign, compared to 27 percent for McCain.
Black Voters: About one in five voters this year was black, according to preliminary exit poll data, down slightly from a quarter of the electorate in 2004. Note this is measures a proportion of the vote.
Change vs. Values: About a third of voters said a candidate who would bring about needed change was most important to their vote, as many who said they were looking for a candidate who "shares my values."
White Voters: White men and women have voted overwhelmingly Republican here since (at least) 1984, when they supported Ronald Reagan over Walter Mondale 76-24 percent. This year, state party officials from both sides say Obama needs 40 percent of the white vote to win here. Neither John Kerry, Al Gore or Bill Clinton came close to that mark. In the Democratic primary this year,14 percent of white voters said race was an important factor. Of those Democratic voters, less than half ? 46 percent -- said they would vote for Obama on Nov. 4. Far more ? 64 percent ? said they would vote Republican or sit out the election. But also keep in mind that the white proportion of the vote has dropped from 83 percent in 1992 to 71 percent in 2004.
Conservatives: This has has been one of the fastest growing states but it retains solid conservative roots. In 2004, 40 percent of North Carolina voters called themselves conservative, compared with 34 percent nationally. And it's just about how many moderates voted. So watch whether McCain -- and Sarah Palin -- can motivate conservatives to turn out in large numbers.
Partisanship: Tarheel voters have been fleeing the Democratic Party over the last quarter century. The percentage who identify themselves as Democrats has sunk from 50 percent in 1984 down to 39 percent in 2004. During that same period, Republican party identification has risen six percent; independents are up five percent. But our Political Unit reports Democrats have had an "eye-popping" 4-to-1 advantage over Republicans at signing up new voters. This also will be a good state to take stock of which candidate does a better job getting those new voters to actually show up at the polls.
Women: Broadly, women were six in 10 voters in 2004 -- the highest female turnout of any state. They swung to the winner in that and every other election here since at least 1984. Though white women have voted Republican by large margins in each of those elections, they have been more likely to vote Democratic than the men.
Evangelical White Christians: They were 36 percent of the vote here in 2004, compared with less than a quarter of the national vote. And they broke wide for George Bush, 84-16 percent. That's an impressive 68 point spread, even bigger than his 78-21 percent (57 point) advantage nationally.
Clinton Voters:Twenty-seven percent of West Virginia voters today were Democrats who had wanted Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. Clinton trounced Obama in the primaries here. But that was six months ago. And Obama was unable to bring about a third of them, who voted for McCain, back into the Democratic fold after Clinton lost the nomination.
Race: The electorate in West Virginia remains nearly all white -- 93 percent. Twenty-two percent of whites said race was an important factor in their vote and they broke for McCain 64 percent to 34 percent for Obama. Obama won white working class voters 53 percent to 45 percent for McCain, but he lost higher income whites, 35 percent to 63 percent.
White Evangelical Christians: This group continues to be a dominant force here, making up fully 52 percent of the voter, up from 48 percent in 2004. has been a huge factor here. McCain won White Evangelicals by 30 points, 64 percent to 34 percent. Union: Members of union households divided evenly for Obama and McCain as they declined from 33 percent of the vote in 2004 to 24 percent today. McCain won non-union household voters 57 percent to 41 percent.
Party ID and New Voters: Even state Republican officials admit they've been swamped by Democrats here in voter registration this year. But new voters are generally, by their nature, new to the process of voting. So watch to see whether these folks show up and make a difference.
Age: Voters 65 and older were about a quarter of the Sunshine State electorate, up 4 points from four years ago. And McCain is winning them 55 percent of older voters. Florida's retirees have swung for the winner in the last three elections. One in five Florida voters was over 65 in 2004. However, at 19 percent of the vote in Florida they were no bigger than in Oregon, Iowa or Washington and just three points over the national in 2004. There were about as many 18-29 year olds voting in Florida that year. This year, voters younger than 30 made up 15 percent of the electorate (down slightly from 2004) and Obama is winning the votes of 60 percent of them.
In Touch: More than half -- 56 percent -- say Obama is in touch with people like them; 44 percent say so of McCain. Slightly less than half of whites and more than half of Hispanics say Obama is in touch with people like them. One in 10 blacks and 36 percent of Hispanics say McCain is in touch with them.
Black Voters: The Obama campaign pressed to register more black voters and is looking for a larger than usual boost from this group. Black voters have been between 9 percent and 12 percent of the presidential vote since 1988, with around one in 10 voting Republican in each election.
Drill Baby Drill?: Are voters responding to McCain's push for more offshore drilling?
Hispanics: Obama is winning 55 percent of the Hispanic vote, a remarkable feat given that no Democrat has ever won a majority of Hispanics here going back at least to 1992. Hispanics this year make up are 13 percent of the electorate, about the same as in 2004. Both candidates have heavily targeted Hispanics. As a broad group, they split just about evenly in 2000.
Jewish: They've traditionally been an overwhelmingly Democratic group. In 2004, Jewish voters made up just 5 percent of the vote; 9 percent in 1992. But in a nail-biter, every sliver of votes could make the difference. Obama may have lost some favor with core groups like this by skipping Florida in the primaries. Will they still turn out in strong numbers? And can McCain pick off any of their votes?
Experience: While six in 10 voters said McCain has the experience to serve as president, just about half said this about Obama.
Fairness: Six in 10 say McCain attacked Obama unfairly; 48 percent said Obama attacked McCain unfairly.
Pennsylvania is one state contested until the very last minute, with the McCain campaign putting in extra time during the waning days of the campaign in hopes of turning this blue state red. And preliminary exit poll data indicates there were voters still to be converted: About one in 10 state voters say they made their minds up in the past three days. The ongoing discussion about whether some white voters might be influenced in their vote choice by Obama's race also centered on Pennsylvania, thanks to comments by Obama and some Pennsylvania politicians. In this preliminary exit poll, a quarter of voters said race was a factor in their vote. African-American voters were twice as likely as white voters to say it was an important factor.
White Catholics: They'd been a reliable Democratic group here until Bush lured them away from Kerry in 2004. They were 30 percent of the vote in that election and Bush won them by four points, 52 percent to 48 percent.
Clinton voters: Obama lost big here, by nearly 10 points, in the Democratic primary. But he managed to bring most of them back home, winning strong support from Clinton supporters. Eight in 10 of them stayed with Obama, according to preliminary exit poll data.
Race: Overall, 16 percent said race was an important factor in their vote, but African American voters were much more likely than whites to say so. Among whites who said race was a factor in their votes, McCain's lead was ? 53 percent to Obama's 47 percent.
Rural: When Obama made his comments this spring about small towns, where "bitter" economically distressed voters cling to guns and religion, he was talking about small towns in Pennsylvania. Republicans have been throwing those comments back in Obama's face ever since. That hasn't stopped the Democrat from fighting hard to recruit new voters and gin up support in these usually rock-solid Republican rural areas in Pennsylvania and in other states. Obama has his work cut out for him: Kerry lost rural areas here by 21 points to Bush, 39 percent to 60 percent.
White Men: Obama made inroads among white men, running even with McCain there. Kerry and Gore both lost white men by double digits.
Time of Decision: Obama was buoyed by early strength, securing a significant lead -- 58 to 42 percent -- among those who decided last week or earlier. McCain closed well, winning among those who waited until last three days to choose a candidate, by 52 to Obama's 46 percent. It was not enough.
Party ID: Obama did well among key political independents ? winning by 20 points. He also held nine in 10 Democrats ? somewhat better than John Kerry, Al Gore or Bill Clinton.
White Women: Bush did better with women here in 2004 than he did nationally. When white women voted Democratic, in 1992 and 1996, this state went blue. When white women voted Republican, in 1988, 2000 and 2004, this state went red. Which way will they swing this year?
White Evangelical: They were 35 percent of the vote in 2004, compared with 23 percent nationally. Numbers like that this year will be good news for McCain.
Working Class: Working class whites, those earning less than $50,000 a year, have sided with the Missouri winner in the last five presidential elections.
Age: One-fifth of the voters in 2004 were 18-29 -- nearly double the proportion of those older than 65. This year, at least 150,000 new young voters have been added to the rolls here.
Suburbs:More than half the electorate lived in the suburbs in 2004 and the final statewide vote nearly matched how the 'burbs voted. In the last two elections, suburbanites have gone for Bush by four-point margins (52 percent to 48 percent in 2004 and 51 percent to 47 percent in 2000). The margin of Bush's wins has been seven points (2004) and three points (2000). Also worth noting, voters from pro-Republican rural areas were double the size of the group from pro-Democratic rural areas in 2004.
Independents: Independents rule in the Granite State. They were 44 percent of the vote in the last election, compared with 26 percent in the national poll. Whether McCain's maverick brand helps him win these free thinkers may be the key to New Hampshire. This was the only state Bush won in 2000 but lost in 2004, largely because he went from a 4 percent deficit among independents in 2000 (47 percent to 43 percent) to 14 points (56 percent to 42 percent).
The Mods: Since 1996 moderate voters have held steady at about half the electorate and Obama will need them. Like independents, they broke for Kerry in 2004 -- by 15 points.
Hillary Clinton: Near the start of the endless primary season, Hillary Clinton won this state in the primaries, albeit by a narrow 39 percent to 37 percent margin. This state has been good to McCain in the past so watch whether Clinton voters stick with the Democratic Party.
Post-Grads: Voters with post-graduate degrees have been among Obama's most reliable supporters. In past elections they've been a bigger factor here than average: 22 percent of the vote in 2004, compared with 16 percent in the national poll.
White Catholics: They've been declining in numbers in the state and they voted for Bush but they were still 38 percent of the vote in 2004.
Party ID: The state hasn't voted Republican in a presidential election since it supported Richard Nixon in 1972. But since then an increasing proportion of voters has identified themselves as Republican -- up to 35 percent of the vote in 2004, just three points from parity with Democrats.
Race: The state is lily white (93 percent in 2004 and 96 percent in the two elections before that.) So if Obama wins it will have to be by attracting white votes.
White Women: They've been increasingly conservative since Bill Clinton left office. Just about half voted Republican in 2004. But pre-election polls showed them swinging back toward the Democrats.
New Voters: They were a big factor in 2004, with one in 10 voting for the first time and -- by a 3-2 ratio -- they voted Democratic.
Party ID: Republicans increased their share of voters by six points from 2000 to 2004, 32 percent to 38 percent. Over the same time, Democrats went from 37 percent to 35 percent, and independents from 31 percent to 27 percent. With partisans breaking about 90-10 for their candidate in the past two elections, continued increased turnout among Republicans could be critical in a state that's been closely contested the past two presidential elections.
First-time voters: Nationally in 2004, first-time voters accounted for 11 percent of voters and were for Kerry over Bush, 53 percent to 46 percent. In Wisconsin, they accounted for about the same percent of voters, 10 percent, but were a much stronger group for Kerry than they were nationally, 58 percent to 41 percent. As those who'd voted previously divided evenly, 49 percent to 50 percent Kerry-Bush, first-time voters helped Kerry narrowly win the state.
Voter Contact: Republicans have built a strategy around encouraging people to vote by mail but Wisconsin residents also can register and vote on Election Day. So keep an eye on how many voters were contacted directly by campaigns and on when they made up their minds. In 2004, Kerry fared better among the one in 10 who decided in the last three days -- 57 percent to Bush's 39 percent.
Religion: White evangelical voters made up 26 percent of the vote in 2004 and voted overwhelmingly for Bush. As an added encouragement for conservative Christians to vote this year, the ballot will include an anti-abortion rights measure that would define "the term 'person' to include any human being from the moment of fertilization."
Independents: In the last four presidential elections, about one-third of voters were unaffiliated with either party. They backed Bush in 2000 but swung to Kerry in 2004.
Hispanics: In 2004, they were 8 percent of the vote. In 2000, 14 percent. They've been heavily Democratic in the presidential voting here, but Republicans have been making inroads: Candidate Voted For
1996 85 12
2000 68 25
2004 68 30
No Religion: In 2004, those with no religious affiliation accounted for 18 percent of voters and were for Kerry over Bush, 69 percent to 30 percent. This was their largest share of the vote in presidential elections since 1992, up four points from 2000 and 10 from 1996. (Nationally, they accounted for 10 percent of voters in 2004.) Democrats have averaged a 34-point advantage among this group since 1992 (about the same nationally, 37 percent). Their share of the Colorado vote and the direction of their vote may be interesting to watch.
Under 30s: One of Obama's strongest groups, they made up 15 percent of the vote in Colorado in 2004 -- their lowest share of the vote in presidential elections since 1992 and down five points from 2000. (Nationally they've been 17 percent of the vote in the last three presidential elections.) They've been behind the Democratic candidate in each election since 1992. The largest Democratic advantage was in 1996, when Clinton won 49 percent to Dole's 39 percent.
Educated People: In 2004, a little more than half of voters were college graduates, compared with 42 percent nationally. That included one in five who earned an advanced degree, one of Obama's best groups. As for educated white voters in particular, Kerry did better with them in Colorado than nationally. In 2004, white voters with no college education were for Bush 62 percent to 36 percent while whites with a college education split 47 percent to 51 percent, Bush-Kerry.
Hispanic:This is the first presidential election in which Hispanic voters were a decisive factor in the state's vote. Forty percent of voters were Hispanic, up from 32 percent in 2004. And Obama won them 68-31 percent, a much larger advantage (37 points) than Kerry's 12 point gap in 2004, and more like Gore's 34 point lead over Bush in 2000. One in five Hispanic voters in New Mexico said race was an important factor and they voted for Obama 75 percent to McCain's 23 percent. Hispanic voters were predominantly young -- 30 percent aged 18-29 -- and they voted 84-15 percent for Obama. All the more remarkable given that Obama lost them to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary back in February.
Party ID: The Republican Party lost strength in this election. Forty-five percent of voters call themselves Democrats – up from 40 percent in 2004. But Republican party identification has dropped off from 33 percent to 28 percent. That's the smallest recorded GOP share of the vote back to 1988. Independents voted for Obama 53-43
Rural Voters/Ethanol: McCain's call for trimming pork from the farm bill is not popular to those who receive that largess. And even more controversial is his opposition to ethanol subsidies. The Obama campaign has tried hard to exploit these positions to make inroads in rural areas. Obama has opened dozens of offices and has actively courted farmers. Nearly six in 10 were rural voters in the last presidential election. Watch rural voters and whether their views on ethanol affect their votes.
Age: One in five voters is older than 65. While these voters have been a strong Democratic group in the last three elections, McCain's campaign is hoping they will vote for one of their own.
Born Again: White evangelicals were 33 percent of the vote here in 2004.
Party ID: When Clinton won this state in 1992, Democrats outvoted Republicans, making up 34 percent of the electorate to the GOP's 32 percent. By 2004, the GOP had flipped that and built a seven-point party ID advantage, with 39 percent of voters calling themselves Republican to the Democrats' 32 percent. Since then, Montana has elected a Democratic governor and two Democratic senators. Which trend will continue?
Guns: The National Rifle Association has been telling voters that Obama is a "poster child of the extremist, elitist gun-control movement." Montana's Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, tells them Obama "ain't ever going to take your gun away." Gun rights are an important issue and one voters believe may be key to this state.
Ron Paul: He's on the ballot here as a Constitution Party candidate and pre-election polls showed him drawing as much as 4 percent. When he was running for the GOP presidential nomination, Paul finished second in Montana's caucus -- better than McCain.
Hispanic: McCain's work on immigration offers him some opportunities with this group. And as in New Mexico, Obama lost this key group to Clinton in the Democratic caucus. In 2004, Hispanics cast 10 percent of the vote and went for Kerry 60 percent to 39 percent.
Working Class: In the last three elections, working class white voters, those earning less than $50,000 a year, have tilted only slightly in favor of the Democrats. More affluent whites have voted solidly Republican, by double-digit margins in the last five elections. As this is shaping up to be another close one (the last three elections here have been decided by three points or less) working-class whites could be critical if they sway just a bit.
Labor Union: Labor is a growing force in the state and Obama will need strong turnout from their ranks. In the Democratic caucus, the leadership of the state's powerful Culinary Workers Union backed Obama. But many union members bucked the union bosses and went with Clinton instead. A quarter of voters were from a union household in 2004, down from 33 percent four years earlier. Union voters went for Kerry over Bush, 56 percent to 42 percent.