NEW YORK — A deeply pessimistic electorate — and one skewed to older voters — showed up to vote this year, according to exit poll interviews.
Sixty-two percent of voters said the economy was the most important issue facing the country and 61 percent said the country is on the wrong track.
With 14.8 million unemployed – 4.5 million more than on Election Day 2008 – it wasn’t surprising that the economy was the dominant issue in the election.
Nearly nine in 10 voters said the state of the economy was not good. And nearly 90 percent of voters were also pessimistic about the nation’s economic future.
Exit poll data also suggested that the 2010 electorate was turning out to be significantly older and more conservative than in previous elections.
The data indicated that a remarkable 23 percent of the electorate was age 65 and over – a big jump from the 2008 election when only 15 percent of the electorate was age 65 and over.
And the data also suggested that younger voters were not responding to urgent pleas from President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders to vote in the way they had in 2008.
Young voters (those age 18 to 29) accounted for 11 percent of the voters; in 2008 they accounted for 18 percent of the electorate.
Only 3 percent of 2010 voters said they were voting for the first time — a sharp drop-off from 2008 when 11 percent of the electorate was first-term voters.
Pessimistic on health care
Senior voters were the age group most likely to call for repeal of the Obama health care overhaul: Nationally 58 percent of voters over age 65 said they wanted the law repealed – this was despite the pitch made to such voters by the Obama administration that the reform would benefit them by completely covering the cost of prescription drugs by 2020.
The law will reduce Medicare spending by more than $400 billion over the next ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And Republicans used this fact in ads attacking the health care overhaul.
In states with hotly contested Senate races, older voters showed strong support for scrapping the health care overhaul: In Colorado, 61 percent of older voters wanted repeal, as did 58 percent of older voters in Nevada and 52 percent in Wisconsin.
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After the federal government’s bailouts of banks and the domestic auto industry — followed by the Democrats’ $814 billion stimulus program — most voters seem to have soured on the idea that government ought to do more to fix what ails the U.S. economy.
The era of more activist government can’t end too soon for many: 56 percent said they wanted government to do less, while only 38 percent said government should do more to solve the nation's problems.
In the Republican wave of 1994 when the GOP gained 54 seats in the House and eight in the Senate, 56 percent of voters said government was "doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals."
That number declined in subsequent elections until it bottomed out at 43 percent in 2008, as Obama was elected president by winning 28 states.
On the day Obama was elected, a bare majority of voters, 51 percent, said government "should do more to solve problems."
That support for more activist government has eroded sharply — to only 38 percent — after only two years.
Only 33 percent of voters said they thought the stimulus had helped the economy; while two-thirds said it either hurt the economy or had no effect at all.
A relatively high 41 percent of voters identified themselves as conservatives with only 20 percent calling themselves liberals and 39 percent identifying as moderates
In the 2006 midterm elections in which the Democrats took control of Congress, only 32 percent of the electorate identified itself as conservative and when Obama won in 2008 only 34 percent called themselves conservative.
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In Florida, a state Obama won with 51 percent in 2008, the Republicans found a new star, Marco Rubio won the Senate race.
Rubio defeated Republican-turned-independent Gov. Charlie Crist and Democrat Rep. Kendrick Meek.
Rubio’s appeal was equally as strong to white voters as to Latinos: He won 52 percent of whites and 54 percent of Latinos.
The Florida electorate was even more skewed to older voters than the nation as a whole: 35 percent of Sunshine State voters were age 65 and older – and Rubio won a plurality of them.
On an issue of acute concern to older people on Medicare, a plurality of Floridians – 43 percent — said Congress ought to repeal the health care overhaul which Obama signed into law in March.
Only 19 percent of Florida voters said Congress should leave the law as it is, while 31 percent said it ought to be expanded. Of those who favored repeal, more than 80 percent voted for Rubio.
Republican Senate candidates also won in hotly contested races in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, three states Obama carried in 2008. In each case, the exit poll data showed that the GOP winners were able to rely on strong support from white male voters and from those age 65 and older.
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