Exit poll: Economic worries, criticism of Obama

Voters’ views of Tuesday’s elections, according to preliminary results of a national exit poll conducted for The Associated Press:

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THE ECONOMY OVERSHADOWS EVERYTHING

Vast numbers expressed concern about the economy, and those who did were leaning decisively toward Republican House candidates.

About 6 in 10 named the economy as the country’s top problem, with no other issue coming close. Nearly all said the economy is in bad shape and expressed concern about its condition over the next year. Roughly 4 in 10 said their family’s financial condition has worsened under President Barack Obama. About 6 in 10 said that overall, the country is on the wrong track, and about three-quarters of them were backing GOP candidates.

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THE PRESIDENT DRAWS FROWNS ...

Just over half disapprove of how Obama is handling his job, and similar numbers expect his policies to hurt the country. More than a third of voters considered their vote Tuesday to be an expression of opposition to Obama; only about a quarter said their vote was meant to voice support for the president.

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... AND CONGRESS DOES EVEN WORSE

About 3 in 4 expressed disapproval of how Congress is doing its job, including about half who voiced strong disapproval. Roughly two-thirds of these voters were backing Republicans. But underscoring a broad dissatisfaction with politicians, just over half voiced negative views of both the Democratic and Republican parties.

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IT’S A TEA PARTY

Roughly 4 in 10 voters consider themselves supporters of the conservative tea party, and they were overwhelmingly voting Republican. Overall, about 1 in 4 voters considered their vote a message of support for the tea party and nearly as many said their vote was meant to signal opposition. But most voters said the tea party wasn’t a factor in their vote. Tea party supporters were nearly all extremely negative about Obama and his policies.

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A DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENTS — FOR REPUBLICANS

The GOP was winning the fight for support from unaffiliated voters — big time. Almost 6 in 10 independents were backing Republican candidates.

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WANT WOMEN WANT

Women generally tilt toward Democrats, but Tuesday they were about evenly split between the two parties. That was disastrous news for Democrats, who were decisively losing the battle for male voters. In the 2008 presidential race and the 2006 midterm congressional contest, men divided their votes about evenly between Democrats and the GOP. Highlighting their disappointment, women — who leaned toward Obama in 2008 by 13 percentage points — tilted Tuesday toward disapproving of the job he’s doing as president. They were split over whether his policies will help or hurt the U.S.

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GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES

About 6 in 10 voters age 65 and up were backing Republicans, a stronger margin than that by which they backed GOP presidential candidate John McCain in 2008. Almost 6 in 10 in the under-30 crowd were voting Democratic on Tuesday — more modest support than they gave Obama two years ago.

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RACE PLAYS A ROLE

Six in 10 white voters were backing GOP candidates, with Republicans winning overwhelmingly among both white men and white women. White men usually back Republicans, but white women are usually more closely contested. Democrats were getting solid backing from minorities, including a 2-1 edge with Hispanics.

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SWING GROUPS SWING GOP

Suburban voters — about half the electorate — were divided about evenly in 2008 and 2006, but over half of them were backing Republicans on Tuesday. White Catholics were leaning clearly toward the GOP. Another group that’s usually closely contested — whites earning under $50,000 annually — was tilting GOP.

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TARGET: GOVERNMENT

About 3 in 4 voters expressed negative views about how the federal government is working, including about 1 in 4 saying they are just plain angry. Of this dissatisfied group, almost two-thirds were voting Republican. Only about 4 in 10 want the government to do more to solve problems, while over half say the government should let businesses and individuals handle more things on their own.

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THE ISSUES THAT AWAIT

Given three choices, about 4 in 10 want Congress to focus on reducing the federal deficit while nearly as many prefer spending to create jobs. Tax cuts finished last. Overall, about 4 in 10 want to continue all of the broad tax cuts that were approved under President George W. Bush, including reductions for people earning at least $250,000 annually. Most of those remaining want to let the cuts expire for the wealthiest earners, while a small number want to let them all expire. Close to half want to repeal the health care overhaul Obama enacted this year, while about the same number want to expand it even further or leave it in place.

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The preliminary results are from a survey that Edison Research conducted for The Associated Press and television networks with 12,832 voters nationwide. This included interviews with 11,231 voters Tuesday in a random sample of 268 precincts nationally. In addition, landline and cellular telephone interviews were conducted Oct. 22 to 31 with 1,601 people who voted early or absentee. There is a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 1 percentage point for the entire sample, higher for subgroups.

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