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Election Results from A to Z

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Here are some of the more interesting results from yesterday’s exit polls.

Exit polls tell us how people voted and why, and they provide demographic and attitudinal information to give us a fuller picture of election results. Representatives of the National Election Pool, the consortium of the five networks and the Associated Press, ask voters leaving the polls to answer questions and Edison Research conducts the exit poll for the consortium. The exit poll allows us to compare the answers of voters and national samples. Below are some of the results we found most interesting.

Abortion: The National Election Pool asked a four-part question about abortion. Twenty-nine percent of voters this year said it should be legal in all cases, 30% legal in most, 23% illegal in most, and 13% illegal in all. Voters’ views were similar to the general public’s views. In the September Public Religion Research Institute poll, 22% nationally said abortion should be legal in all cases, 34% legal in most, 24% illegal in most, and 15% illegal in all.

Blacks constitute one of the few monolithic votes in American politics. In every election since 1972, more than 8 in 10 of them have voted for the Democratic presidential candidate. In 2008, 95% of blacks voted for Barack Obama and 4% for John McCain. The real question in this election was whether the turnout of this slow-growing demographic group would be similar to 2008 (13%). This year, blacks were 13% of voters, and 93% of them voted for Obama. 

Conservatives: On Election Day, voters who considered themselves conservatives on most political matters made up 35% of all voters. Seventeen percent of them voted for Obama and 82% voted for Romney. Self-identified liberals were 25% of all voters and 86% of them voted for Obama. Moderates, the largest group of voters (41%), supported Obama over Romney 56 to 41%. In 2004 and 2008, moderates were around 45% of all voters, conservatives around a third, and liberals around 2 in 10. In some national polls in 2012, conservatives outnumbered moderates.

Democrats, like Republicans, were very loyal to their party. Ninety-two percent of Democrats voted for Obama, and an almost identical 93% of Republicans supported Romney. Between 1972 and 2008, Independents sided with the winning candidate in every election except 1976 and 2004. This year, they voted for Romney over Obama. 

One of the big controversies in much pre-election commentary was whether pollsters were oversampling Democrats. As for the composition of the exit poll sample, 38% of voters said they usually think of themselves as Democrats, 29% Independents, and 32% Republicans. In 2008, voters were 39% Democratic, 29% Independent, and 32% Republican.

The demographer Joel Kotkin has said that demography is the best friend the Democrats have.

Economy: Only 2% of voters described the economy’s condition as excellent. Twenty-one percent called it good (90% of these voters cast ballots for Obama, 9% for Romney), 45% not so good (55% for Obama, 42% for Romney), and 31% poor (12% for Obama, 85% for Romney). Voters were slightly more optimistic than the national sample in the September ABC News/Washington Post poll; 2% nationally said it was excellent, 16% said it was good, 42% said it was not so good, and 39% said it was poor.

Thirty-nine percent in another question in the exit poll said the economy was getting better, and 30% said it was getting worse.

When asked the question Ronald Reagan made famous about their family’s financial situation compared to four years ago, 25% of voters said it was better today, 33% said worse, and 41% said about the same. The responses to this question nationally in a September AP/GfK/Roper poll were 27% better, 36% worse, and 36% about the same.

When asked about the biggest economic problem facing people like them, 8% said the housing market, 38% unemployment, 14% taxes, and 37% rising prices. Those who said inflation voted evenly for each candidate, 49 to 49%.

Thirty-eight percent said Obama was more to blame for current economic problems; 53% gave that dubious prize to George W. Bush.

Foreign policy: Voters were asked which of four issues was the most important facing the country. Fifty-nine percent said the economy, 18% health care, 15% the federal budget deficit, and 5% foreign policy. Foreign policy voters favored Obama 56 to 33%.

Fifty-seven percent of voters said they trusted Obama to handle an international crisis; 50% gave that response about Romney. The exit poll did not include a question about Benghazi.

Government’s role: When voters were asked which was closer to their view, 43% said that government needs to do more to solve problems, while 51% said that government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals. Three-quarters of voters who said government is doing too many things voted for Romney; 8 in 10 voters who said government should do more voted for Obama. 

In Quinnipiac’s national poll from September, the results (40% said government should do more, while 52% said it was doing too much) were similar to Election Day results.

Health care: Fifty-nine percent of voters said the economy was the top issue, followed at a great distance by health care, cited by 18%.

When asked what should happen to the 2010 health care law, 49% of voters wanted to repeal all or part (8 in 10 of them voted for Romney), while 44% wanted it left as is or expanded (nearly 90% of them voted for Obama.)

A similar question asked nationally by Fox in September found that 30% of respondents wanted to expand it or leave it as is, and 54% wanted to repeal parts of it or repeal it entirely. 

Immigration: Many polls during 2012, including polls of Republican primary voters, suggested that intensity about immigration had cooled. In the exit poll, 65% of voters said most illegal immigrants working in the United States should be offered a chance to apply for legal status, while 28% said they should be deported to their native country.

Jews are another monolithic group in American politics, tilting strongly toward Democrats. Since 1992, more than 74% of this small slice of the electorate (2% in 2012) has voted for the Democratic candidate for president. On Election Day 2012, 69% did.

The marriage gap in this election was 41 points. The gender gap was 18.

Kudos to AEI’s own Henry Olsen, whose deep knowledge of voting patterns has enabled him to call the past three presidential elections correctly. This year, he and Nate Silver got about as close as you can get to the actual results.   

Latinos: One of the big questions of this election season concerned Latino turnout. Their share of the electorate was 10% this year, compared to 8% in 2008. While the difference is small, it is extremely consequential politically.

The demographer Joel Kotkin has said that demography is the best friend the Democrats have. Latino voters cast their ballots for Obama over Romney 71 to 27%. In 2008, they voted 66 to 32% for Obama over McCain.

The 2010 Census told us that Asians were the fastest growing minority group in the country in the last decade. The Asian population has grown substantially in states such as Virginia, Nevada, Arizona, and North Carolina, and both campaigns wooed this diverse group in these states. In this election, they were 3% of all voters, and they supported Obama over Romney 73 to 26%.

Married voters: The voting gap between married and unmarried voters is much larger than the gender gap. In all recent elections, married voters have favored the Republican candidate and unmarried voters the Democrat. This year, 56% of married voters favored Romney and 42% favored Obama. Unmarried voters can be never married, widowed, or divorced. Many in this category are single and young. In 2008, 65% of them voted for Obama; in 2012 62% did. Non-married women supported Obama more strongly (67%) than did non-married men (56%). The not-married portion of the population is growing. 

The marriage gap in this election was 41 points. The gender gap was 18.

Never: The slice of the electorate that says it never attends church (17% this year) voted for Obama over Romney by a whopping 62 to 34%.

In another exit poll question about denomination, 12% of voters said they had none (70% of them voted for Obama). Most Mormons voted for Romney (78%).

Older voters were 16% of all voters, and they supported Romney decisively (56%). 

People who said they had children under 18 living at home were 36% of the exit poll sample. They voted 51 to 47% in favor of Obama.

The question about what role Hurricane Sandy played in the election may never be answered. Forty-two percent of voters said it was an important factor in their vote; 54% said it was not.

Rich: Fifty-nine percent of voters said the economic system favors the rich and 39% said it is fair to all. Seventy percent of the former favored Obama, while 77% of the latter favored Romney.

Ten percent in the exit poll said Obama’s policies generally favor the rich, 44% the middle class, and 31% the poor. Fifty-three percent in a separate question said Romney’s policies favored the rich, 34% the middle class, and 2% the poor.

Some college/associate degree is one of the education categories on the exit poll ballot. This group has an excellent track record of voting for the winner in presidential contests. The group is large (29% of the electorate in 2012). This year, they voted 49% for Obama and 48% for Romney.

Those with less than a high school degree (a declining share of all voters, at 3% in 2012) usually vote for Democratic presidential candidates, while those with a post-graduate degree (18%) have voted for Democratic candidates by substantial margins in recent contests. In 2012, those with a post-graduate degree voted 55% for Obama and 42% for Romney. College grads (29% of all voters) split 51% for Romney and 47% for Obama.

The slice of the electorate that says it never attends church (17% this year) voted for Obama over Romney by a whopping 62 to 34%.

Taxes: Thirty-three percent of voters said taxes should be raised to help reduce the budget deficit (73% of them voted for Obama), while 63% disagreed (they voted for Romney over Obama, 61 to 37%).

In another question, 13% of voters said income tax rates should increase for all, 47% said they should increase only on income over $250,000, and 35% said they shouldn't increase for anyone. Those who said they should increase for all voted 52% for Obama, 44% for Romney. Those who said they should increase only for upper-income people voted 70 to 29% for Obama. Those who said they shouldn’t increase for anyone voted 75 to 23% for Romney.

Union Households: In 1972, union households voted narrowly for Richard Nixon, but they have voted for Democratic presidential candidates ever since. In 2008, 59% voted for Obama; in 2012, 58% did.

Vision: When voters were asked which of four candidate qualities mattered most in deciding how they voted, 29% (the top category) said their candidate had a vision for the future. Twenty-seven percent said he shared their values, 21% said that he cared about people like them, and 18% said that he was a strong leader. Obama only won on the "cares about people like me"; Romney beat him on all other qualities.

Women made up 53% of all voters, and they pulled the lever for Obama 55 to 44%. Men voted 52 to 45% for Romney. White men were only 34% of the electorate, down from 46% in 1980.

The gender gap in this election was 18 points.

X-factor: Paul Ryan will likely be a presidential contender in 2016. Nearly half of all voters had a favorable opinion of him. He won his congressional seat. Although not all absentee ballots have been counted, it appears that the Romney-Ryan ticket lost his home town in Wisconsin.

Youth: The youngest age group supported Obama over Romney 60 to 37%. Young people were not quite as enthusiastic as they were in 2008, when two-thirds of them voted for Obama. 

Zen: Nineteen percent of voters said they were angry with the Obama administration, 30% dissatisfied but not angry, 24% satisfied but not enthusiastic, and 25% enthusiastic.

Note: The results shown here are from the early exit polls. The numbers could change by a percentage point or two.

Karlyn Bowman is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

FURTHER READING: Bowman also writes "Few Voters Pay Attention to New Breed of Fact-Checkers," "The Past, Present, and Future of the Women’s Vote" with Jennifer Marsico, and "Obama’s Weakness in Historical Context" with Andrew Rugg.  Rugg also discusses "Partisan Polls." Jonah Goldberg weighs in on "Nate Silver's Numbers Racket."

Image by Darren Wamboldt / Bergman Group

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