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Exit polls: Obama gains with whites

Image: Barack Obama gains white supporters
A supporter holds up a sign for Barack Obama as voters file in to cast their ballots in the non-binding straw poll during a caucus in east Denver on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2008.David Zalubowski / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama grabbed an edge among white men and led with black, young and higher-income voters in early national exit polls on Tuesday. White women rallied behind Hillary Rodham Clinton, who also got a boost from Hispanics and people seeking an experienced candidate.

On the Republican side, preliminary data from exit polls of voters in 16 states showed Sen. John McCain getting broad support, including strong backing from moderates and people valuing experience and leadership. He and Mitt Romney were battling for an edge among party regulars, while Romney had an advantage with the GOP's most conservative voters, people seeking a strong stance against illegal immigrants, and those satisfied with the status of the economy and the war in Iraq.

Obama was getting support from about half of white men, giving him a slight edge over Clinton with a group whose support had mostly eluded him this year. Former Sen. John Edwards' decision to leave the Democratic race last week may have helped Obama with white males, who made up more than a quarter of Tuesday's Democratic voters from coast to coast, preliminary exit polls showed.

At the same time, more than four in 10 women and about the same number of whites also were supporting Obama. That represented a gain for the Illinois senator from most of the previous Democratic nominating contests this year, though he still trailed Clinton by almost 10 percentage points in both categories, a significant gap in a two-person race.

"I think Obama can bring a more radical change," said Linda Ster, 44, a social worker in Nashville, Tenn. "I have voted for a Clinton already. I want something different — way different — this time."

The bulk of Obama's white support was coming from those under age 45 — especially those younger than 30 — a group he was dominating overall in Tuesday's contests.

Countering that, Clinton had the support of almost six in 10 white women, giving her a muscular 20 percentage point edge with them. White women comprised more than one-third of Democratic voters Tuesday.

Democrats' racial differences
Obama was getting the backing of eight in 10 blacks, about his usual margin. But Clinton, a New York senator, was countering with strong support from Hispanics, about six in 10 of whom were supporting her. Much of that strength came from Hispanic women and from the oldest Latino voters.

Clinton also was favored by older voters, with those over 65 giving her most of their votes, and had a clear lead with lower educated and low-income people.

Underscoring the state-by-state differences in Tuesday's races, Clinton and Obama were about even among California's whites, while she had leads of nearly 20 percentage points among whites in more conservative Georgia and Missouri. Obama trailed slightly among men in Tennessee but led by a wide margin with them in Delaware.

In the GOP, Romney, McCain and Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee were about even in California among white born-again and evangelical Christians, while Huckabee easily won that group in Alabama. McCain and Huckabee split among Oklahoma voters calling themselves Republicans, while McCain won that same group by huge margins in more moderate New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Nationally, Obama was leading with liberals, while Clinton had a slight advantage with moderate Democrats. Liberals outnumbered moderates by about a five-to-four margin in Tuesday's Democratic voting.

Change is a popular desire
About half of Democrats across the country said they want a candidate who will change things. As usual Obama was that group's overwhelming favorite, getting about seven in 10 of their votes. About one-fourth preferred experience, and Clinton was garnering virtually all of their votes.

Half of Democrats named the economy as the country's top issue. Of that group, Clinton was favored slightly. She also led with those citing health care, while Obama had an advantage with people most concerned about the war in Iraq.

In a sign of McCain's broad support, he had an edge over his GOP rivals among men, older voters, veterans and Hispanics, according to preliminary national figures from exit polls. He also led among people saying they are somewhat conservative, Republicans who disapprove of the way the war in Iraq is going, and those who were not white evangelical or born-again Christians.

"I think he's the guy that can see the big picture," Heather Holliday, 28, a sales executive in Chicago, said of McCain.

McCain and Romney each had the support of nearly four in 10 people calling themselves Republicans. McCain has yet to win that group of voters in any GOP contest this year, though he has tied for the lead among them before. He led among independents — a consistent McCain strength — though Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, was not far behind.

McCain had more than a 2-to-1 edge over Romney among GOP moderates. Romney was compensating by getting about half the votes of people calling themselves very conservative, well ahead of Huckabee and McCain.

One-third of GOP voters said they are white, born-again and evangelical Christians, an area where McCain has been weak. On Tuesday, those votes were almost evenly divided among Huckabee, Romney and McCain — with McCain trailing slightly — essentially negating the influence of that pivotal bloc of Republican voters.

Those preferring a candidate with strong leadership over agreement on the issues, and looking for experience, were tilting strongly toward McCain.

But nearly half of Republicans were looking for a candidate who shares their values. Romney led with that group.

Romney also had four in 10 votes from Republicans who want to deport illegal aliens, for a clear lead over McCain.

The top issue for Republicans also was the economy, with four in 10 naming it. Those voters favored McCain, as did those citing Iraq and terrorism. Romney's advantage came with the one-fourth who said illegal immigration was their No. 1 concern.

But GOP voters sent a mixed message on the economy, picking Romney in a separate question as the one they most trusted to manage it.

The preliminary results came from exit polling by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International conducted for The Associated Press and television networks. The partial samples came from more than 400 precincts across 16 states with primaries on Tuesday.

Included were interviews with 16,290 Democratic primary voters and 10,117 GOP voters. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 1 percentage point for both parties. Also included was a poll conducted by telephone in Arizona, California and Tennessee to determine the views of early and absentee voters.