By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 11/3/2010 1:04:43 AM ET 2010-11-03T05:04:43

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.

    1. National overview
    2. Full Senate results
    3. Key House results
    4. Full Gubernatorial results

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call for repeal of the Obama health care overhaul: Nationally 58 percent of voters over age 65 said they wanted the law repealed – this was despite the pitch made to such voters by the Obama administration that the reform would benefit them by completely covering the cost of prescription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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      Click here to view our Republican takeover cartoons.

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.

More conservatives
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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Video: Vox populi: Voters vent in exit polls

  1. Closed captioning of: Vox populi: Voters vent in exit polls

    >> all night long we'll listen to the voice of the voters, what they are telling the exit polls as they vote today and tonight. my colleague, lester holt , is keeping an eye on all of that tonight. lester, good evening.

    >> brian, good evening. a lot of interesting nuggets we'll be pulling out but none more defining of what this election is about than the numbers and the economy. nine out of ten say the economy is not in good shape and they are pessimistic. about the same number are worried about the future and for good reason. it hits close to home for a lot of people. 29% have had a job layoff in the family. 42% say their finances are worse than they were last time, though last time they went to the polls two years ago. all that translating into anger. we've been hearing about it throughout the campaign. 26% of voters said they are angry at the government. nearly half are dissatisfied. less than a quarter told us that they are satisfied or enthusiastic. so when you consider all the negative feelings towards government it's probably not a big surprise that a solid majority think the government is doing too much. 56% say that. 39% want the government to do more. so where is all the anger and unhappiness being channelled? the same number of people said they have an unfavorable view of the democrats as have an unfavorable view of the republicans. 53% each. president obama 's pretty much in the same boat with 54% of those who went to the voting booth saying they disapprove of the job he's doing as president. brian, we'll keep you posted throughout the evening as we cannot to listen to the voice of the voters.

    >> lester holt who appears to be presiding over a city

Photos: Election night

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  1. Ohio Gov.-elect John Kasich celebrates a victory during the Ohio Republican Party celebration in Columbus, Ohio. (Tony Dejak / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, celebrates early election returns in Anchorage on Nov. 2. With Murkowski are from left, sons Matt and Nick Murkowski and longtime friend Hope Neslon. (Michael Dinneen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. California Gov.-elect Jerry Brown celebrates his election win during a rally with his wife, Anne Gust, in Oakland, Calif. (Paul Sakuma / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman concedes to Democrat Jerry Brown during a campaign party in Universal City, Calif. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Supporters of California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman react after conceding the Governor's race to Democrat Jerry Brown during a campaign party in Universal City, Calif. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Terri Sewell celebrate her victory with her cousin Kindall Sewell- Murphy as the first African American woman to be elected to for the 7th Congressional District seat in Alabama, with family and friends in Selma, Ala. (Butch Dill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle with her husband, Ted Angle, concedes defeat to supporters at the Nevada Republican Party's election results party at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino after she lost to incumbent U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Supporters of Nevada Republican Party Senate candidate Sharron Angle react after news projected Democratic Party candidate Harry Reid as the winner of the race for the Nevada senate seat at the Nevada Republican Party's Election Night event in Las Vegas, NV. (Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks during the Nevada State Democratic election night party after defeating Sharron Angle to win re-election, in Las Vegas. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Angela Webb of Alabama, left, and Leah Stith of Virgina react after U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was announced as the winner over Republican challenger Sharron Angle at the Nevada State Democratic Party's election results party at the Aria Resort & Casino at CityCenter in Las Vegas. In one of the nation's most closely watched races, Reid retained his seat for a fifth term against Angle, a Tea Party favorite. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. House Republican leader John Boehner breaks into tears during his speech as he addresses supporters at a Republican election night results watch rally in Washington, D.C. (Jim Young / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Supporters of Republican Senator Marco Rubio celebrate at his victory party in Coral Gables, Florida. (Gary I Rothstein / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. U.S. Senator John McCain is reflected on a teleprompter as he celebrates his victory with his daughter Meghan after defeating Democratic candidate Rodney Glassman in Phoenix, Arizona. (Joshua Lott / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Tammy Tideman of Mesa, Arizona and Carla Schwarte of Phoenix, Arizona hold "Fire Pelosi" sighn as Sen. John McCain speaks to the crowd during an Arizona Republican Party election night event in Phoenix, Arizona. (Laura Segall / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Democrat Bill White walks off the stage after addressing his election night party at the Hilton Americas Hotel in Houston. The former Houston mayor conceded defeat to incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry in the race. (Smiley N. Pool / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. President Barack Obama makes an election night phone call to Rep. John Boehner from his Treaty Room office in the White House residence. (Pete Souza / The White House) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Tea Party Patriots at an election night party celebrate an announcement that Republicans have gained the majority in the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, November 2. (Ann Heisenfelt / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Terri Scofield of Medford checks her email for updates from the Board of Elections as she awaits elections results at the Suffolk County Democratic Committee Headquarters in Islandia, N.Y. (Kathy Kmonicek / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand D-NY celebrates her re-election at a rally in New York. Disenchanted U.S. voters swept Democrats from power in the House of Representatives and increased the ranks of Senate Republicans on Tuesday in an election rout that dealt a sharp rebuke to President Barack Obama. (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Harris Blackwood, communications director for Georgia Gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal, holds a broom, claiming a sweep for Republicans at the Georgia Republican Party's election night watch party in Atlanta. (Brant Sanderlin / Atlanta Journal & Constitution / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Republican U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, a favorite among the conservative Tea Party movement, appears at an election night rally in Dover, Delaware. Democrat Christopher Coons won the U.S. Senate race in Delaware on Tuesday, keeping for Democrats a seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Michele Bachmann and other Republicans gather at the Sheraton Bloomington to await election results. (Tom Wallace / Star-Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Kentucky Republican U.S. Senate candidate and Tea Party favorite Rand Paul acknowledges supporters with wife Kelley at his election night rally in Bowling Green, Kentucky, November 2. (John Sommers II / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., arrives to celebrate his re-election with supporters at the Martin Luther King Jr. Democratic Club in New York. (Jason Decrow / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Supporters Rachel Smith, right, and Genevieve Fugere watch the returns of Democratic Mike McIntyre D-N.C., 7th House District at his election night headquarters at the Holiday Inn in Lumberton, North Carolina. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Election worker Janet Smith processes ballots at the King County Elections headquarter in Seattle, Washington. Among the races and ballot initiatives here is the US Senate race between incumbent Senator Patty Murray and challenger Republican and former gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, which is so close it could take several days to determine the winner. (Stephen Brashear / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Republican candidate for governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, right, watches election results come in after the polls closed from a hotel restaurant with her husband Michael, left, son Nalin, 9, rear center, and daughter Rena, 12, right, in Columbia, South Carolina. (David Goldman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Florida Governor Charlie Crist thanks supporters after conceding his defeat in his campaign for U.S. Senate to Republican Marco Rubio during a campaign party in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Brian Blanco / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Diana Reiner of Lansdale, Pennsylvania, left, and Keli Carender of Seattle, Washington, gather with a group known as the Tea Party Patriots for a 'Reclaiming the Capitol' rally at the US Capitol. The group planted a "special edition" of the historic Gadsden flag, the US flag, and the Tea Party Patriots banner into the ground in Washington, DC. Midterm elections are being held across the United States with many highly contested races that could threaten the political futures of numerous incumbents as well as change the balance in the Senate and House of Representatives. (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Jamey Stehn leaves the Hope Social Hall after casting his ballot in Hope, Alaska. Stehn and the other 200 or so residents of Hope use the one-room log building built in 1902 as their polling place and activity hall. (Michael Dinneen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Volunteer Justino Mora, left, joins members of the mariachi band "Los Munecos," and other Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles volunteers to urge immigrant voters to vote early in the California election in Los Angeles, California. The sign reads in Spanish: "Everybody to Vote." (Damian Dovarganes / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Congressman Joe Sestak speaks with a reporter after casting his ballot in Gradyville, Pennsylvania. Sestak faces Republican candidate Pat Toomey in the midterm election. (William Thomas Cain / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Sloan Atkins, 6, left, helps her mother, Coleen Atkins, as her sister Reese Atkins, 4, helps their father Anthony Oliva, right, fill out their ballots in West Miami, Florida. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Sen. John McCain and his wife, Cindy, address the media outside a polling station in Phoenix as Apollo, a dog owned by McCain's son, Jimmy, licks the camera. (Matt York / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A member of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers fills out his ballot at a polling station inside the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers Spellman Room in Ossining, New York. (Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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