EXIT POLLS: The Race Factor in West Virginia

Two-thirds of whites who cite race would not vote for Obama in general election.


May 13, 2008 — -- A confluence of groups inclined toward Hillary Clinton gave her an easy victory in the West Virginia primary, with less-educated, lower-income whites predominating in this Southern state.

In a trouble sign for delegate-leader Barack Obama, barely half said they would vote for him in November if he is the party's nominee.

Racially motivated voting ran somewhat higher than elsewhere: Two in 10 whites said the race of the candidate was a factor in their vote, second only to Mississippi. Just 31 percent of those voters said they'd support Obama against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, fewer than in other primaries where the question's been asked.

Indeed, as noted, among all West Virginia primary voters, only 49 percent said they would support Obama vs. McCain, far fewer than elsewhere and one of many signs of antipathy toward Obama in the state.

Among Clinton's supporters, just 38 percent said they would vote for Obama against McCain; nearly as many said they would back McCain; and the rest said they would sit it out.

Still, there was room for some criticism of Clinton.

Even in her broad victory, 58 percent of voters said she had attacked her opponent unfairly; fewer, 51 percent, said Obama had attacked unfairly.

Notably, among those who said Clinton had attacked unfairly, 57 percent voted for her anyway.

Bringing "needed change," Obama's trademark, again was the most-desired candidate trait, picked by 46 percent in West Virginia as most important -- near its level across all primaries to date.

But here Obama only lost those "change" voters to Clinton, 50-44 percent, after winning them by a wide margin elsewhere. Clinton swamped him among voters focused on other attributes.

It also was a state where minds have been made up for some time: Seventy-five percent said they'd decided on their candidate more than a week ago, in the high end for early deciders this year.

As noted, there was significant criticism of Obama among the West Virginia electorate. Half of voters thought that at least to some extent he shares the views of his controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright (though fewer, about two in 10, thought he shares "a lot" of views with Wright).

While 74 percent said they would be satisfied with Clinton as the nominee, just 42 percent said they would be satisfied with Obama. And while seven in 10 said Clinton shares their values, only 43 percent said that about Obama.

Fifty-five percent doubted Obama's honesty and trustworthiness, an attribute on which he has bettered Clinton elsewhere. In the five previous primaries where the question has been asked, 66 percent called Obama honest, compared with 55 percent who said that of Clinton.

In West Virginia, 64 percent called Clinton honest, while only 43 percent said that about Obama.

Even among voters in West Virginia who said Clinton is not honest and trustworthy, just over a third (35 percent) voted for her anyway -- her best performance in this group to date, up from about a quarter of such voters in previous races.

Ninety-six percent of voters were whites, just 29 percent were college graduates -- the fewest in any primary this year -- and 55 percent had household incomes under $50,000, among the most in primaries to date.

Working-class whites have been among Clinton's best groups; she has won less-educated white voters, for example, by a 2-1 margin in previous primaries to date.

Clinton won all West Virginia whites by a wide margin, 69-23 percent, but not a bigger one than she has seen in some previous primaries, particularly Southern ones. She won whites by 79-16 percent in Arkansas, 72-25 percent in Alabama, 70-26 percent in Mississippi and 67-26 percent in Tennessee. (She also won whites by a like margin, 66-31 percent, in New Jersey.)

Clinton's husband may have helped: Sixty-two percent said his campaigning in the state was at least somewhat important in their vote, and they favored her over Obama by a 80-15 percent margin.

However, the large number of early deciders make that look more like a general pro-Clinton comment than a true measure of vote influence.

In North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Indiana, the other Democratic primaries in which Obama-McCain matchups have been asked, 74, 73 and 71 percent, respectively, said they would support Obama as the nominee; as noted, just under half said so in West Virginia.

Similarly, among Clinton supporters in those states, 47, 54 and 49 percent said they'd back Obama as the nominee, compared with 38 percent here.

Finally, West Virginia voters by 64-33 percent favored the idea of suspending the federal gasoline tax, an idea backed by Clinton and opposed by Obama.

In a national ABC News/Washington Post poll this week, Americans divided evenly on the proposal; among Democrats, most Clinton supporters favored it, while most Obama supporters were opposed.

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