Published December 23, 2015
An examination of the exit polls sheds light on how a president facing unemployment near 8 percent, debt topping $16 trillion and mounting questions over the Libya terror attack was able to win a second term in office.
Obama’s win Tuesday night came from a strong showing among core Democratic constituencies, being more likeable than his opponent, and an economy that voters felt is doing well-enough to give him another four years. Also, the president’s response to Hurricane Sandy in the final days of the campaign was an important factor to many voters.
Obama’s key groups made the difference -- both in their makeup of the electorate and, for the most part, their strength of support for him.
Non-whites made up 28 percent of the electorate, up a bit from 27 percent in 2008. This group largely backed Obama: 71 percent of Hispanics (it was 67 percent last time), and 93 percent of blacks (down a touch from 95 percent).
Republican challenger Mitt Romney won among white voters by 20 percentage points. That’s up from John McCain’s edge of +12 points in 2008. In addition, the share of votes cast by whites was lower (72 percent) than it has been going back to at least 1992.
Young voters were important to giving Obama his first term. Voters under age 30 showed up again this time: They represented 19 percent of all voters, one point higher than the 18 percent in 2008. Even so, they didn’t back him as strongly this time: 60 percent -- down six points.
Seniors backed Romney by 56-44 percent, mostly unchanged from 2008.
Meanwhile, more Democrats than Republicans voted, 38-32 percent. In 2008, Democrats also outnumbered Republicans by 39-32 percent.
Almost all Democrats supported the president (92 percent). That support was equaled among Republicans for Romney (93 percent).
Forty-five percent of independents backed Obama, down from 52 percent last time. Half of this swing group preferred Romney (49 percent).
Marital status was a more significant factor than gender this year. Women, a traditional Democratic voting group, backed Obama by 11 points -- about the same as by 13 points in 2008. Even so, married women backed Romney by 7 points (an improvement from McCain’s +3 showing).
Men backed Romney (52-45 percent), and married men backed him by an even wider margin (60-38 percent).
Romney was successful in energizing his base: conservatives accounted for 35 percent of all voters today, one-point higher than in 2008. And he captured 82 percent of them (McCain got 78 percent). White born-again Christians made up 26 percent of the voters today and 78 percent favored Romney (for McCain it was 74 percent).
In addition, white Catholics went for Romney by a margin of 59-40 percent. This is a group that has historically backed the winner.
About four voters in 10 say Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy was important to their vote (42 percent), and they backed the president by a better than two-to-one margin. Fifteen percent said it was the “most important” factor in their vote.
Mood of the Country
Obama’s victory comes despite voter dissatisfaction with how things are going in the country, mediocre economic ratings and a majority opposing his health care plan.
Less than half of voters think the country is headed in the right direction (46 percent). Fifty-two percent say things are going in the wrong direction. Still, that’s an improvement from the 75 percent who thought so in 2008.
Direction of the Country
Right Direction 46%
Wrong Track 52%
For reference, when former President George W. Bush won re-election in 2004, it was 49 percent right direction and 46 percent wrong track.
Voters who said the country is on the right track went for Obama (93-6 percent), while those who said things are going in the wrong direction went solidly for Romney (84-13 percent).
Overall, 23 percent rate the condition of the nation’s economy positively (2 percent “excellent” and 21 percent “good”). That’s three times as many as the 7 percent who rated it positively in 2008.
Fully 77 percent of voters gave a gloomier assessment (45 percent “not so good” and 31 percent “poor”).
Almost all Republicans (96 percent) and most independents (80 percent) gave the economy a thumbs-down, as did 58 percent of Democrats.
Voters are also divided over whether the economy is getting better or worse (39-30 percent).
Obama benefited from more voters blaming Bush (53 percent) than him (38 percent) for current economic conditions.
Blame For Current
Twenty-five percent said they are better off today than four years ago -- almost identical to the 24 percent who felt that way in 2008. More -- 33 percent -- said they are worse off now. Another 41 percent say there has been no change in their family’s financial situation.
Most of those saying they are better off today voted to re-elect the president (84-15 percent). Those who are worse off sided with Romney by 80-18 percent.
Results on the role of government favored Romney. Fifty-one percent said they prefer smaller government with fewer services, while 43 percent prefer larger government.
These divided views translate into clear vote preferences: voters who want the government to do less backed Romney by a whopping 50-point margin, and those that want it to do more went for Obama by 65 points.
A 54-percent majority approves of President Obama’s job performance, while 45 percent disapprove. Almost all of those who approve voted for him today (89 percent), just as those that disapprove backed his challenger (94 percent).
In addition, 19 percent of voters felt “angry” about the Obama administration and 30 percent were “dissatisfied but not angry.” At the other end of the spectrum 24 percent felt “satisfied, but not enthusiastic,” and 25 percent felt “enthusiastic.”
On the Issues
There’s no doubt the economy is the top issue for voters -- here’s what they say is the biggest economic problem they’re personally facing. Voters saying unemployment is the biggest problem sided with Romney. Those who say rising prices go to Obama.
Most Important Economic Issue
Rising Prices 37%
Housing Market 8%
Romney had a one-point edge on doing a better job on the economy and likewise on the federal budget deficit (+2).
More voters trust Obama than Romney to handle an international crisis (+7 points) and think he would better handle Medicare (+8 points).
Nearly half of voters -- 49 percent -- think all or part of Obama’s health care law should be repealed -- something Romney had said he would do. Forty-four percent want to keep or expand the law.
A plurality agrees with Obama on what should happen with income tax rates: 47 percent think taxes should increase only on income over $250,000. Some 13 percent say taxes should increase on everyone, while 35 percent don’t think anybody’s taxes should increase.
More voters like Obama: 53 percent have a favorable opinion of him, while 47 percent have a positive view of Romney.
Opinion of Obama
Opinion of Romney
And by 53-43 percent voters think Obama is “in touch” with people like them.
In Touch With People Like You
Obama is 53%
Romney is 43%
People looking for empathy in a candidate mostly back Obama (81-18 percent). Those looking for a candidate who shares their values went for Romney (55-42 percent), as did those who wanted someone with a vision for the future (54-45 percent).
Finally, Obama successfully painted Romney as someone whose policies would favor the rich -- 53 percent of voters thought that. Almost all voters think Obama’s policies favor the middle class (44 percent) or poor (31 percent).
President Obama won Colorado, a battleground state that he also won in 2008, with the help of Hispanics and independents.
Colorado has a large Hispanic population -- the state ranks sixth in the United States. Hispanics gave the president more support than in 2008 when he received 61 percent to McCain’s 38 percent.
White evangelicals also put their support behind the Republican candidate. Colorado is home to James Dobson one of the most influential spokesmen for the conservative movement and its social positions behind the white evangelical movement in the United States. In 2008, white evangelicals supported the Republican candidate John McCain by 76 percent to Obama with 23 percent.
In 2008, independents in Colorado gave their support to Obama by 54 to 44 percent for Arizona Sen. John McCain. Tonight, that support dropped significantly -- by 11 points -- and Mitt Romney won that important group.
Obama won with the support of Colorado’s voters who identified themselves as moderates. But his support with this group was down significantly from 2008. Obama won moderates in his first bid for the White House 63 percent to 34 percent for Senator McCain.
The race is tight in Florida and a winner had not been called as of this writing. Unemployment and home foreclosure rates are high there, but half the voters blame George W. Bush for current economic problems.
Blame For Current
Independents were 33 percent of the voters in Florida. They split 50 percent for Obama, 48 percent for Romney. In 2008, independents favored Obama 52 percent to 45 percent, giving him a 7 percentage point advantage.
Almost one-in-five (17%) Floridian voters is of Hispanic descent. But in Florida there's a sizeable Cuban-American population -- distinct from other parts of the country. They went slightly for Romney.
However Hispanics of non-Cuban descent went for Obama.
Non-Cuban Hispanic Voters
Obama did very well among blacks as well. Romney won among white voters.
Florida has the highest percentage of seniors of all states. They were almost one-quarter of all voters. They favored Romney by 16 percentage points.
Obama started his presidential career winning the Iowa caucuses in 2008 and he ended his campaign there on Monday night. While Obama won young voters in most states, here he did okay among seniors as well, splitting them 50-50 with Romney.
More Iowans describe themselves as moderate than liberal or conservative. Obama carried moderates easily.
Romney didn’t gain any votes with his position on abortion. A majority of voters think abortion should be legal. Obama outscored Romney on being better able to handle the economy, Medicare, energy policy and being in touch.
Since 2004, Ohio has flip-flopped in its support for the presidency between the Republican and Democratic candidates. In 2008, Obama won by five points. In 2004, Ohio voters supported the Republican presidential candidate, George W. Bush, over Democrat John Kerry by two percentage points. Tonight, Obama carried the state for the second time.
Ohio voters are more likely to blame the country’s current economic conditions on former President George W. Bush than Obama. Ohio has an unemployment rate of seven percent, which is below the national average of 7.8 percent. It also ranks 10th in foreclosures.
Blame For Current
Voters in union households increased their support for the president by five points (it was 56-43 percent in 2008).
Almost six in 10 Ohio voters approved of the federal bailout of U.S. automakers. Of those voters who approved of the bailout, 75 percent supported Obama, while 24 percent went for Romney.
U.S. Auto Bailout
Romney drew a great deal of his support from white men, winning that group by 62-36 percent. In 2008, the Republican John McCain received 53 percent to 45 percent for Obama.
In 2008, Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia in more than 40 years and tonight, he did it again.
Virginia has fared better than most states in the past four years, with an unemployment rate at two percentage points below the national average. Still, Virginia voters said the economy was their top issue.
Top Issue: Economy
Voters who said the economy was the most important issue broke almost evenly between the two candidates: 47 percent Obama to 51 percent Mitt Romney -- and 1 percent for Virgil Goode, the Constitution Party candidate.
Among college educated voters, Obama did well. He won that group in 2008, and this time with an increase in support of two percentage points.
Obama’s second win in Virginia was largely due to the support he received from women and black voters.
Independents in 2008 narrowly supported the president. This time they broke for the Republican candidate.
Veterans and active military split their support evenly between the two candidates.
Veterans and Active Military
Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan is from Wisconsin. Just over half there have a favorable opinion of him. That wasn't enough to carry the ticket to victory in a state that last went Republican in 1984.
Opinion Of Paul Ryan
Women played an important role in the president’s victory in Wisconsin. They favored him 57 percent to 42 percent for Romney.
Young voters were another strong group for Obama, splitting 59 percent to 38 percent for Romney.
More than half the voters approved of the federal government’s aid to U.S. automakers. Those voters strongly backed the president. Those who disapprove of the auto bailout went for Romney just as strongly.
U.S. Auto Bailout
Edison Research conducted this exit poll for Fox News and interviewed 26,565 voters as they left randomly selected polling places around the country.