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Exit poll: Obama wins women, blacks, Hispanics

Connie Cass

Barack Obama soaked up most of the votes from the nation's women, blacks and Hispanics and siphoned off enough white support to leave John McCain with no way to win.

Exit polls showed that Republican McCain won the votes of 55 percent of white voters, whose strong support has been vital to the GOP. But that wasn't a big enough margin to compensate for the lopsided support that Obama drew from other voters who make up a quarter of the electorate.

McCain and Obama split white votes across the U.S. except in the South, where McCain got twice as many white votes as Obama. Southern whites had favored George Bush by similar margins in 2000 and 2004.

Obama, who will become the first black president and at age 47 one of its youngest, ran away with the youth vote. He won the under-30 crowd by 34 percentage points, even better than Democrat Bill Clinton's 19-point advantage when he defeated Bob Dole in 1996.

About 40 percent of those voting called themselves Democrats — a historically high number — and they overwhelmingly chose Obama. He also held a significant edge among the quarter of voters who called themselves independents

McCain, 72, got support from just over half of senior citizens, coveted for their vigilance in going to the polls. Those 65 years and older were almost a fifth of all voters, similar in influence to people under 30.

McCain also drew strength from white, working-class voters, according to preliminary exit polls. Whites who haven't finished college gave him heavy support, but short of the 23-point margin by which Bush won their vote in 2004.

Enthusiasm clearly was on Obama's side: Almost six in 10 of his voters said they were excited about what Obama would do as president. Fewer than three in 10 McCain voters felt that way about their man.

Curt Babura, a 31-year-old cook from Cleveland, said he never bothered to vote before casting his ballot for Obama. "When he talks it feels like he's talking to you," Babura said.

Fear played no favorites. Among both Obama and McCain voters, about half said they were "scared" of what the candidate they opposed would do as president.

"I'm scared to death of the Democratic Party this year, particularly Barack Obama," said Robert Zannini, a 73-year-old retired Air Force pilot from Montgomery, Ala. "Everything he says seems to lead to socialism."

Obama drew the votes of two-thirds of Hispanic voters — heavily courted by both candidates — and nearly all blacks who went to the polls.

He seemed to inspire optimism about race in America. About 60 percent of Obama's voters believe race relations will improve over the next few years, while about the same number of McCain voters expect relations to stay the same or deteriorate.

In both camps, about one voter out of five acknowledged that the candidates' race was a factor in their vote, but almost no one said it was the most important factor.

Women voters typically are the key to a Democratic presidential victory, and Obama was pulling well over half their votes. He held a narrower edge over McCain among men, according to the preliminary national survey.

One in five of the first-time voters was black, almost twice the proportion of blacks among voters overall. Another one in five of the new voters was Hispanic. About two-thirds of them were under 30.

A third of first-time voters this year said they were political independents; only about one in 5 was a Republican.

Twenty-six-year-old Jennifer Sunderlin, who typically votes Republican, said she didn't stick with her usual party this election year.

"Don't tell my Dad, but I voted for Barack Obama," said Sunderlin, of Albany, N.Y. She said she was turned off by McCain's choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

She wasn't alone. Four in 10 voters overall said Palin was an important factor in deciding whom to vote for, and this group was about as likely to vote for Obama as McCain. But nine in 10 Republicans calling Palin's selection important were voting for McCain.

About a third of voters said the quality that mattered most to them was the candidates' ability to bring change — the mantra of Obama's campaign. But almost as many cited the candidate's values, and they voted McCain, as did those who honed in on experience.

"I don't think Obama knows what he's doing," said Craig Burnett, 55, a Republican in Hagerstown, Md. "He's too young and inexperienced."

Two-thirds of voters worried about how to pay for health care and at least as many feared terrorists will attack the U.S. again. But the economy weighed heaviest on their minds.

Six in 10 voters picked it as the most important issue facing the nation, according to preliminary polling. None of the four other issues listed by exit pollsters — energy, Iraq, terrorism and health care — was picked by more than one in 10 people.

Almost everyone agreed the economy is in either a "poor" or "not good" condition.

The results were from exit polling by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for The Associated Press and television networks conducted in 300 precincts nationally. The preliminary data was based on 17,244 voters, including telephone polling of 2,407 people who voted early, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 1 percentage point for the entire sample, smaller for subgroups.

The Associated Press