EXIT POLL: White Working-Class vs. Change in Indiana; Blacks Lift Obama to N.C. Victory

In North Carolina, Obama wins nearly unanimous support among African-Americans.


May 6, 2008 -- A sharply divided electorate made for a close contest in Indiana, where working-class whites and controversy over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright worked to Hillary Clinton's advantage, while liberals, new voters and the mantle of change boosted Barack Obama.

In North Carolina nearly unanimous support among African-Americans lifted Obama to an easy victory. It was the eighth state were blacks made up more than 30 percent of the voters, and he's won all eight of them.

Indiana was the closer race, and perhaps the more portentous one.

Even with Clinton's narrow victory, compunctions about her were widespread: Sixty-five percent said she'd attacked her opponent unfairly. (Four in 10 voted for her nonetheless.) A substantial 45 percent saw her as not honest and trustworthy. (A quarter of them voted for her anyway.) As elsewhere, bringing "needed change" was the most-desired candidate attribute; 51 percent of voters picked it, and they went to Obama by about his customary 40-point margin.

Obama drew new voters in Indiana, winning the one in five participating in their first primary by 22 points. He again won young voters by a wide margin. And he won liberals in the state by 57-43 percent, much better for Obama than the dead heat among liberals across previous primaries to date, including their 50-50 split in Pennsylvania two weeks ago.

While a socioeconomic gap continued, compared with Pennsylvania Clinton did 5 points less well, and Obama 5 points better, among whites with less than $50,000 in household incomes; there was a similar shift among middle income whites, together helping to draw the contest much closer than Clinton's 10-point Pennsylvania victory.

Wright was a new element; in Indiana nearly half of voters, 46 percent, called Obama's former minister an important factor in their vote, and they overwhelmingly favored Clinton, by 70-30 percent. Obama came back about as strongly, though, among those who said the issue wasn't important.

Additionally, Clinton won Indiana voters who made their choice in the last week, by 56-44 percent. She did less well among those who decided earlier.

Key in Indiana were working-class voters; 65 percent lacked a college degree, compared with an average of 53 percent in all primaries to date. While Obama tried to improve his appeal among working-class whites, the exit poll found a 64-35 percent Clinton advantage in this group in Indiana (and 71-26 percent in North Carolina); she won them by 61-32 percent in all previous primaries to date.

Continuing the same socioeconomic division that's marked the primaries all year, white college graduates divided evenly, 49-50 percent in Indiana, and 53-46 percent in North Carolina.

As noted, the racial makeup of the electorates themselves played a major role. Blacks accounted for 34 percent of North Carolina voters and 91 percent of them supported Obama. Against that voting bloc Clinton would have needed 70 percent of non-black voters; she fell well short, with 59 percent.

Obama also won nine in 10 blacks in Indiana. They accounted for 18 percent of voters there – far fewer than in North Carolina, but a record nonetheless for Indiana, surpassing 15 percent in 1988.

Clinton won white men in Indiana by 58-42 percent, and in North Carolina by 55-42 percent, both better than her total across all primaries this year, an essentially even 47-46 percent. However, she's done as well with white men in some states before, including 57-43 percent in Pennsylvania and 58-39 percent in Ohio.

Indeed, race largely eclipsed sex as a factor in vote preferences: Clinton won white men and women by similar margins in both states; Obama, ditto.

Clinton had a broad advantage -- 66-34 percent over Obama -- among rural and small town voters in Indiana, who accounted for one in six voters. That was just below her previous bests in this group, in Tennessee, Arkansas and Ohio. But Obama won in mid-sized and larger cities by a broad 61-39 percent, better than his usual.

Another result, mirroring one in Pennsylvania, indicated a small but negative impact of racially motivated voting.

Thirteen percent of white voters in Indiana and 14 percent in North Carolina called race an important factor in their vote; these voters were much less apt than others to say they'd support Obama against John McCain in November. It's a small group, but small groups can matter in close contests.

Among those voters, in Indiana just 49 percent said they'd support Obama against McCain; the rest said they'd take McCain or sit it out.

By contrast, among the large majority of whites who said race was not an important factor, 67 percent said they'd support Obama in the general election. (The divisions in North Carolina were similar, 46 and 64 percent, respectively.)

It's an open question whether white voters who called race important -- overwhelmingly Clinton supporters now -- would ultimately come around to Obama were he the nominee.

At the same time, as noted, Obama benefited from a surge of new voters; 19 percent in North Carolina said it was their first time voting in a primary, and they favored him by a vast 69-28 percent. As many (22 percent) were first-time voters in Indiana, and he won them there as well, by a closer but still-wide 61-39 percent.

On Wright, any impact of the controversy might have been mitigated by early decision-making.

In North Carolina, 79 percent made up their minds before last week, when the debate over Obama's ex-minister heightened; in Indiana, 75 percent were early deciders – in both cases, more early deciders than usual, 67 percent across all primaries to date. In North Carolina, early deciders -- disproportionately African-Americans -- favored Obama by a 58-40 percent margin.

As in other recent contests since Obama took the frontrunner's mantle, Clinton again did better among late deciders -- losing them by 6 points in North Carolina and winning them, as noted, by a substantial margin in Indiana. She also won support from some of her customary support groups in Indiana, including more than a 2-1 advantage among seniors, while Obama won under-30 voters there by 24 points.

Economic concerns were particularly high; two-thirds in Indiana said the economy was the single most important issue in their vote, the highest in any primary to date.

Six in 10 picked it as the top issue in North Carolina. Forty-five percent in Indiana also said the current economic slowdown has affected them "a great deal"; 40 percent reported that much of an impact in North Carolina.

As in Pennsylvania, there was continued criticism of Clinton in terms of the tone of the campaign. In both states Tuesday, two-thirds of voters said she attacked her opponent unfairly. Fewer – closer to four in 10 – say Obama attacked unfairly.

Even among Clinton's own supporters, majorities – 55 percent in Indiana and North Carolina alike – said she attacked unfairly. Only about three in 10 Obama supporters said the same of him.

Similarly, in a continued weakness for Clinton, fewer voters in both states rated her as "honest and trustworthy" as felt that way about Obama. Among voters who saw Clinton as not honest and trustworthy, 25 percent in Indiana and 22 percent in North Carolina voted for her anyway -- again, similar to the result in Pennsylvania.

More than six in 10 voters in both states say they'd be satisfied with either Obama or Clinton as the nominee -- but that left substantial numbers of these Democratic primary voters (admittedly in the heat of battle) who said they wouldn't be satisfied.

Indeed, in Clinton and Obama matchups against McCain, anywhere from a quarter to three in 10 Democrats said they wouldn't vote, or would support the Republican.