Exit polls: Voters defy conventional wisdom

/ Source: The Associated Press

Hillary Rodham Clinton can bank on the support of women. Conservatives will never trust John McCain. Southern white men won't vote for Barack Obama.

All were conventional wisdom before this year's presidential contests began, and the voters shot some holes in each.

Now that Democrats and Republicans in most states have voted, the candidates' strengths and weaknesses have come into focus. With showdowns in Texas and Ohio next week that could determine whether Clinton stays in the Democratic race, here is what exit polls of voters reveal about the contenders' supporters:

The female factor:
Women favor Clinton, the New York senator, but not by much. She leads Obama among females by 51 percent to 45 percent. Of 22 states that have held Democratic primaries in which the candidates competed fully, she won the women's vote in just half.

Her true strength is with white women. She has a 21 percentage point edge with them and has carried them in most states. But underscoring Clinton's recent fade, she has barely won majorities of white women in recent contests in Wisconsin and Virginia.

Two-thirds of Hispanic women support Clinton. Black women, who some thought might be torn between Clinton and Obama, favor the black Illinois senator by about the same margin that black men do — eight in 10.

McCain's red meat problem
Only a third of conservatives have supported McCain, whose views on immigration, tax cuts, campaign finance and federal judgeships have antagonized them. That's still more than have backed his remaining major rival, Mike Huckabee, and only a few points behind Mitt Romney, who bowed out of the race early this month.

The Arizona senator's real problem is with the GOP's most conservative voters. Only one-fifth of people calling themselves very conservative have voted for McCain, and he hasn't prevailed among them in a single state.

Yet these most conservative voters are only 28 percent of those who have voted so far in Republican contests. They're outnumbered by the 35 percent who say they are somewhat conservative. McCain is easily the leading vote-getter with that group. And the very conservative are equal in size to the party's moderates, a group McCain leads overwhelmingly.

In another reflection of the right's views, Republicans in Virginia who listen frequently to conservative talk radio were 22 points less likely to support McCain than those who never listen. The gap was 13 points in Maryland, but in Wisconsin there was virtually no difference. Combining those same three states, voters were evenly split over whether McCain is conservative enough.

Southern men
Obama leads Clinton among all men nationally by a dozen points and edges her by 4 points among white men.

He's even been competitive with white males in some parts of the South. Southern white men have favored Clinton by 50 percent to 40 percent, voting heavily against Obama in South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. He's won an even split of their vote in Delaware, Georgia and Maryland, and prevailed by a lopsided margin in Virginia.

Obama does best with better educated people, and that's reflected among white men in the South. He's prevailed among white male college graduates in six Southern states and finished even in another. But he's not caught on with Southern white men lacking college degrees: among them, he's lost nine states, coming out even only in Virginia, and won just 27 percent of their votes.

Democrats in labor
About three in 10 Democratic voters have come from households with at least one union member. Clinton has a 4-point advantage with this group.

They could help her in the March 4 showdown in Ohio, where 44 percent of voters in the state's 2004 Democratic primary were from union families. An ABC News-Washington Post poll said last week that Ohio Democrats from union families favor her by 16 points.

The big Clinton advantage with union voters has been along racial lines. Whites from union households back her nationally by 17 points, a bit stronger than her 10-point lead among all whites. Black union members support Obama by the same 4-to-1 margin as all blacks, while six in 10 Hispanic union members are behind Clinton, just as they are overall.

Eight in 10 union voters in Ohio are white, with nearly all the rest black.

Portraits of voters
A third of Obama's voters have been black, compared with fewer than one in 10 of Clinton's. Forty-five percent of hers were white women, as were 27 percent of his. One in five Clinton voters were age 65 or over, nearly double Obama's proportion. And 53 percent of Obama's voters have college degrees, while 56 percent of Clinton's don't.

Odds and ends
McCain, the former Navy pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war, has been supported by 45 percent of veterans, compared with 38 percent of non-veterans. ... Democratic Hispanic men divide more evenly than Hispanic women but still favor Clinton over Obama, 54 percent to 40 percent. ... Obama gets six in 10 votes of people under age 30, Clinton nearly the same proportion of those 65 and up.

The data is from exit polls of voters in 22 states that have held competitive Democratic and Republican primaries so far. Included are interviews with 26,591 Democrats and 20,324 Republicans, with a margin of sampling error for each of plus or minus 1 percentage point. Margins of sampling error for subgroups are larger.