ANALYSIS: White Men Boost Obama; McCain Wins Amid Doubts Over Conservative Cred

Exit Polls Show GOP Voters Seek Shared Values; Potomac Democrats Want 'Change'


Feb. 13, 2008 —

Sen. Barack Obama rode support from white men to strong victories in the Virginia and Maryland Democratic primaries, while Sen. John McCain prevailed in both states but still faced Republican doubts, particularly in Virginia, about his conservative credentials.

Underscoring a continued challenge for McCain, 49 percent of Virginia GOP voters and 41 percent in Maryland described him as "not conservative enough." That rose to about six in 10 conservatives in both states.

He found salve in the fact that three-quarters said they'd be satisfied with him as the party's nominee -- though fewer, 46 percent in Virginia and 44 percent in Maryland, said they'd be very satisfied, and this again was lower among conservatives.

On the Democratic side, Obama won white men in Maryland and Virginia alike. He won 84 and 90 percent of blacks, the latter among his highest margins in that group; they accounted for 37 percent of Maryland voters and 30 percent in Virginia. And Obama narrowly won the few Hispanic voters in Virginia; he'd won Hispanics just once before, in Connecticut.

Obama's overall vote margins in the two states were his widest, outside his home state of Illinois, in any primary where fewer than four in 10 voters were African-Americans. He won women in both states, something he's done outside states with larger black turnout only in Delaware, Iowa and his home state of Illinois. Indeed, in Virginia, Clinton won white women by a scant 6-point margin; she won them by 18 points in Maryland.

As elsewhere the "change" theme was powerful for Obama: Fifty-six in Maryland and 57 percent in Virginia said the top attribute they were seeking in a candidate was the one who can best "bring about needed change." They favored him by a vast 83-16 percent in Virginia and 80-18 percent in Maryland.

Again in both states, Obama also won voters most concerned either with empathy -- "cares about people like me" -- or electability in November. He won "electability" voters by 15 points in Maryland and by a remarkable 43 points in Virginia, his best margin to date among voters focused on this attribute.

Among other notable results, Obama won self-identified independents in Maryland's closed primary by 62-27 percent; and split seniors, usually a strong Clinton group, 47-45 percent. In Virginia Obama won seniors by 10 points, 55-45 percent. It's the first time he finished ahead among seniors in any primary this year.

No exit poll was conduced in the Washington, D.C., primaries. Here's a breakdown of results in Virginia and Maryland:

VA REP -- Thirty-one percent of Republican voters in Virginia described themselves as very conservative, up sharply from 18 percent in the 2000 primary. They boosted Huckabee: He won very conservatives by a broad 65-25 percent, while McCain prevailed among somewhat conservative voters by 13 points and won moderates by almost 3-1.

Just under half of Virginia GOP voters, 46 percent, identified themselves as evangelicals, and Huckabee won them by 2-1. McCain, however, won non-evangelicals -- 54 percent of voters -- by an even wider margin, 63-25 percent.

Veterans accounted for 28 percent of voters; McCain won them by 51-39 percent. And McCain won by 2-1 in northern Virginia, while the contest was closer in the south and east of the state, and Huckabee was strong in the conservative Shenandoah and southwest region.

On personal attributes, Huckabee again won voters looking for a candidate who "shares my values," 64-24 percent, and again it was the most-cited quality, while McCain won 93 percent of those most concerned about experience. McCain fairly narrowly won voters focused on a straight-talking candidate who "says what he believes," 48-42 percent.

MD REP -- McCain had an easier race in Maryland, largely because of a lesser prevalence of evangelical voters (34 percent) and partly because he did less poorly among evangelicals and strong conservatives alike, though still losing both groups.

Unlike Virginia, McCain narrowly won conservatives overall in Maryland, by 44-36 percent, because of his 51-31 percent margin among "somewhat" conservative voters; however he again lost very conservatives to Huckabee, but by a much closer margin than elsewhere, 42-36 percent.

McCain has won conservatives overall in just two previous states, New York and New Jersey, and tied the since-departed Mitt Romney among conservatives in Illinois.

While McCain lost evangelicals in Maryland by 50-36 percent, he won non-evangelical voters by a wider margin, 65-19 percent.

A graduate of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, McCain did among his best of the year among veterans in Maryland; about a quarter of voters, he won them by 57-33 percent. And he won the two in 10 voters who called the Iraq war the country's most important issue, by 64-23 percent, among his best in that group in primaries to date.

On attributes, as in Virginia, Huckabee won voters looking for the candidate who shares their values. But unlike Virginia, those looking mainly for a candidate who says what he believes went very broadly for McCain, 64-21 percent.

VA DEM -- In the Democratic contest Obama not only won 90 percent of African-Americans but beat Hillary Clinton among whites, 52-47 percent. That came on the strength of his support from white men, who favored him by an 18-point margin.

Obama has won or tied Clinton among white men in 12 previous contests in which exit polls were conducted, and in seven of them he won the race. (Those he lost include California and Arizona, where Hispanics made the difference for Clinton.)

Blacks accounted for 30 percent of voters in Virginia, compared with their 33 percent share in 2004; their support for Obama was near his highest from African-Americans in any primary this year (93 percent in Illinois).

While Hispanics accounted for just 5 percent of voters, Obama narrowly won them, 54-46 percent, in Virginia; as noted, in only one previous state, Connecticut, has he won Hispanics. (In Maryland, Hispanics accounted for 4 percent of voters and broke 55-45 percent for Clinton.)

Obama also was helped by independents, who made up 22 percent of voters in Virginia's open primary. While Clinton won white Democrats by a 12-point margin (56 percent to 44 percent), white independents went even more broadly to Obama, 66-33 percent.

A third of all Democratic voters were from northern Virginia, the more moderate-to-liberal region of the commonwealth, and Obama claimed 62 percent of their votes. Only in the largely rural Shenandoah and southwest of the state did Clinton win, a region that accounted just one in nine Democratic voters.

MD DEM -- Obama won white men by a narrow 48-45 percent in Maryland, compared with 58-40 percent in Virginia; as noted above, Clinton, by contrast, won white women by 18 points in Maryland and by just 6 points in Virginia.

Maryland voters by 50-46 percent said Obama was better qualified than Clinton to service as commander-in-chief, making this only one of a handful of states in which he's beaten her on this question.

Education factored in with race and sex in both these states: In Maryland and Virginia alike, Obama won college-educated white men, while Clinton won those who don't have college degrees. The difference is that 73 percent of white men voting in the Maryland Democratic primary, and about as many in Virginia, were college graduates.

ABC News' Rich Morin, Peyton Craighill, Pat Moynihan and Scott Clement contributed to this report.