WASHINGTON — Voters credited President Bush with protecting the country and trusted him more than Democrat John Kerry to take on the terrorists. That offset their displeasure with the economy and the course of the war in Iraq.
Election Day found the nation divided by all sorts of issues — from the role of government to gay marriage.
Bush had said the race would come down to “who do you trust.” And a majority of voters said when it comes to handling terrorism, they trust Bush, Associated Press exit polls found.
Although seven in 10 voters were worried about another major attack on U.S. soil, a majority nonetheless felt the nation was safer than four years ago. That majority strongly favored Bush.
‘For my safety’
“For my safety, I know he’s the one who’s going to do the job,” retiree Rebecca Lesko said after voting for Bush in Linwood, N.J. “I think (Osama) bin Laden is scared of Bush. That’s why we haven’t been bombed yet.”
Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts, was the choice of the 40 percent who felt less safe.
The poll exploring the electorate’s thinking was conducted among 13,047 voters for AP and the television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.
Moral values — heavily emphasized by the president — edged terrorism and the economy as the top issue.
On the economy, voters were about as likely to say Kerry could be trusted as Bush — with many believing the economy has soured under Bush’s leadership.
Economy seen as significantly worse
Voters rated the nation’s economy significantly worse than they did four years ago, when 75 percent called it excellent or good. This year, a majority said the economy was poor to not so good.
Kerry carried the group who said the economy was the most important issue as well as those who felt Iraq mattered most.
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Chris Coffin of Boston — like about a third of Kerry voters — said his vote was mostly against Bush.
“He didn’t get bin Laden and Iraq is a mess,” said Coffin, a Boston hotel manager and a political independent. “What has he done?”
A majority said things were going badly for the United States in Iraq, and they heavily favored Kerry. Yet slightly more voters approved of the decision to go to war with Iraq than disapproved.
Bush carried white men, voters with family income over $50,000 and weekly churchgoers. Three-fourths of white voters who described themselves as born-again Christians or evangelicals supported Bush. Those white evangelicals — a crucial voting bloc for the president — represented about a fifth of all voters. Their top issue was moral values.
Core Democratic groups backed Kerry
Kerry was the overwhelming favorite of black voters and had a big lead among Hispanics, though Bush improved his performance with that key group. Kerry had the lead among women, another core group of Democratic supporters.
Young voters supported Kerry over Bush by about 10 percentage points, but the expected surge in their participation this year was not evident. Just under 10 percent of voters were between age 18 and 24, about the same share of the electorate as in 2000. But four years ago, they were evenly split between Bush and Gore.
Besides in-person interviews Tuesday, the survey included 500 absentee or early voters interviewed by telephone during the past week. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample was plus or minus 1 percentage point.
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