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Exit Polls: Economy Dominated Issues

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Hundreds of polls were conducted in the weeks leading up to the election. And yesterday as voters cast their ballots, pollsters were standing by to ask them still more questions. NPR's Juan Williams has been analyzing those exit polls, and he joins us now. Good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What stands out for you, Juan, most in the surveys of voters leaving the polls?

WILLIAMS: Well, a first thing is the dominance of the economy as an issue. Six in 10 said that was the main issue for them, Renee. And Senator Obama had an eight-point lead, 53-45, among those voters. The economy was big all year, but clearly it got even bigger this summer and fall with the market collapse and the credit crunch and apparently the coming of a recession, if not a depression.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course, in the last few weeks, the McCain campaign made Barack Obama's tax policies the focus of its attacks. Obviously, it didn't win the day for Mr. McCain. But how did different groups of voters respond?

WILLIAMS: Well, that's really interesting because Obama actually won among people making under 100,000 a year, and he also won among those who made more than 200,000 a year, the people who would be in danger of a tax increase under his own tax plans, as he described them. So in a way this is so curious. The one group that he didn't carry, however, was the group with incomes between 100,000 and 150,000. And with respect to the tax cuts that you were talking about, Renee, 70 percent of voters said taxes are going to go up under Senator Obama, but they also - it was also the case that 61 percent of voters said they expect taxes would have gone up if Senator McCain had been elected.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's break this down, take a closer look at three key voting groups: the African-Americans, whites, and first-time voters. What did you find there?

WILLIAMS: Well, we see a lot of signs of division here, but also some signs of Barack Obama's appeal across the various divides. For example, Senator Obama won more than 90 percent of the black vote. In fact, in some places he won 100 percent of the black vote. And he did well among Hispanics. But the black vote did not increase in terms of turnout. It was 13 percent, which is only two percentage points higher than it was in 2004. Senator Obama did not carry the white vote. He got about 43 percent of white votes in the country, which is about the same as President Bill Clinton got in his re-election year of 1996. And as for first-time voters, Renee, they were 11 percent of the electorate this time around, but that's about the same percentage of first-time voters as we had four years ago.

MONTAGNE: And then how big a factor was Republican fatigue, which of course was so much talked about after eight years of the Bush administration?

WILLIAMS: Well, that's a key issue, Renee. And the exit polls show it. Maybe the biggest problem that Senator McCain had was his inability to detach himself from George W. Bush. Voters of all races were less inclined to support the Republican nominee this fall than they were in 2004. And 24 percent of McCain's voters said they would be scared of an Obama victory, 20 percent said they'd be concerned, but overwhelmingly people who disapproved of President Bush did not vote for Senator McCain.

MONTAGNE: Well, finally, a really big one. How much of a factor was race in this election and, if you know, how much of a factor was age?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, age is a curious one because McCain did best among older voters, those over 65, especially white voters over 65. Senator Obama carried the group of voters under 30 decisively, but that group was not as large a part of the total as Senator Obama's campaign had hoped and in a way had promised. So in the end, it was only a small amount compared to 2004. The best news though, Renee, for Obama was that the slightly larger youth vote was much more united behind him than it had been behind Senator Kerry in 2004.

MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR news analyst Juan Williams. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Juan Williams
Juan Williams, one of America's leading journalists, is a news analyst, appearing regularly on NPR's Morning Edition. Knowledgeable and charismatic, Williams brings insight and depth — hallmarks of NPR programs — to a wide spectrum of issues and ideas.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
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