EXIT POLLS: Storm of Voter Dissatisfaction Lifts Obama to an Historic Win

Analysis by Gary Langer, Rich Morin, Brian Hartman, Peyton Craighill, Claudia Deane, Mollyann Brodie, Patrick Moynihan, Bob Shapiro and Scott Clement.

Barack Obama rode a storm of voter dissatisfaction to his history-making victory, lifted to office as the first African-American president by the battered economy, a generational and partisan shift in political power and the resonance of his promise of change.

The coalition of voters that supported Obama reflected the diversity of America. Sixty-one percent of his supporters were white, 23 percent black and 11 percent Hispanic. In contrast, 90 percent of John McCain's supporters were white.

Young voters, while not turning out in disproportionate numbers, overwhelmingly supported Obama, 66-32 percent, smashing the previous records for this group – a 19-point margin for Bill Clinton in 1991 and a 19-point margin for Ronald Reagan in 1984.

The election marked a reversal of the Reagan revolution. His presidency heralded a generation of close division in political partisanship, shrinking a 15-point advantage in Democratic turnout in 1980 to 2 points in 1984 and, for the first time, parity in 2004. This year, in a dramatic turnaround, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 7 points, 39 percent to 32 percent – the fewest Republicans in 28 years.

The shift in individual states was equally remarkable – in Ohio a 15-point swing toward the Democrats in turnout, in North Carolina 12 points, in Virginia 11, in Nevada 10, in Indiana and New Mexico 9.

Part of that shift stemmed from the deeply unpopular president (71 percent disapproved of George W. Bush's job performance; even in Utah, the nation's most Republican state, 51 percent disapproved) and the broadly unpopular Iraq war (63 percent disapproved). But almost exclusively this election was about the economy and the angst of recession.


-Sixty-three percent said the economy was the biggest problem facing the county; the next no closest was Iraq at 10 percent.

-Eighty-one percent were worried about their family's finances – 48 percent, "very" worried. Two-thirds said they were worried about being able to afford health care.

-Three-quarters of voters said the country was seriously off on the wrong track – vastly up from 46 percent in 2004 and 31 percent in 2000.

-Forty-two percent of voters said their family's financial situation is worse than it was four years ago – the most since it first was asked in exit polls in 1992.

Obama capitalized on these anxieties, taking advantage of the theme of "change" he first wielded against Hillary Clinton in the primaries, then turned against Bush, McCain, and ultimately the economic crisis in the general election.

Obama won 62 percent of voters who said the country's off on the wrong track. He won by 53-44 percent among voters who said the economy was their top concern. And he won "worse off" voters by 70-28 percent.

McCain won voters who were "better off" and those who were in the same shape financially now as four years ago; it was financially hurting voters who made Obama president.

Despite portraying himself as a "maverick," McCain never could separate himself from Bush: Voters were evenly divided (48-48 percent) when asked if they thought McCain would continue Bush's policies or move the country in a different direction. Nor was McCain helped by Sarah Palin: Sixty percent saw her as unqualified to be president.

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