Exit Poll: Ohio Reflects Divisions Across the Nation

If the vote in Ohio had been about the economy, John Kerry would likely be president-elect. If it were about terrorism, President Bush might have had an easier time. Instead it was about both, and more -- and that made it a very long night.

On the economy, 55 percent of Ohio voters said the job situation in their area is worse today than four years ago; 17 percent said it's better.

And 57 percent said the state's economy is in bad shape. Normally that's trouble for the incumbent -- but Kerry didn't entirely capitalize on it: Asked whom they trust more to handle the economy, 43 percent in Ohio picked Bush, 38 percent Kerry.

On terrorism, there was much more differentiation, and in Bush's favor: Ohio voters were 18 points more likely to say they trust Bush and not Kerry to handle it, by 48 percent-30 percent. And 58 percent said the country is safer from terrorism now than it was before Sept. 11 -- the cornerstone issue of Bush's re-election campaign.

In perhaps the bottom line result in an incumbent election, 53 percent in the Ohio exit poll said they approve of Bush's job performance overall. And in a telling note, this was the first time Republicans outnumbered Democrats voting in Ohio -- however narrowly -- in exit polls, at least since 1988.

Ohio Reflects National Divisions

For all that, Ohio was close, reflecting some of the very same divisions that appeared across the nation. While slightly more voters in Ohio approved than disapproved of the decision to go to war in Iraq, slightly more also said things are going badly there.

Kerry did better in Ohio than Al Gore did in 2000 with moderates, independents and young voters, and maintained his base among blacks.

But he held a slimmer margin among voters from union households than Gore in 2000. Bush, meanwhile, was strong with his white Protestant churchgoing base -- and enjoyed an even larger margin among white Catholics in Ohio than he did in 2000.

There was very little of a gender gap in Ohio, and instead a marriage gap; married men and women alike supported Bush, unmarried men and women supported Kerry.

Issue priorities help explain: Singles were more likely to call the economy and jobs their top issue. For married women, the No. 1 issue was moral values; for married men, it was the economy followed by moral values and terrorism alike.

Nationally

In many cases, as went Ohio so went the nation. Critically, precisely equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans voted, 37 percent-37 percent; in the last four presidential elections, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by three or four points -- a small difference but an important one given the correlation between party allegiance and vote.

There was less of a gender gap nationally than in 2000; while Gore won women by 11 points, Kerry won them by five. The key reason: Married women, who favored Bush over Kerry by nine points, 54 percent-45 percent. In 2000, Bush and Gore split married women.

The marriage gap held among men as well: Six in 10 married men supported Bush; single men supported Kerry by nine points. Married men were somewhat more likely to cite terrorism and moral values as the top issues in their vote; single men were more likely to cite the economy and jobs.

Youth

Young voters were central to Kerry's hopes. They represented 17 percent of all voters, the same as in 2000, but they broke differently -- about evenly between Gore and Bush, but much more widely for Kerry, 54 percent-44 percent.

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