- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

President Bush won a majority of white men, churchgoers and white, born-again Christians, while John Kerry drew his strongest backing from blacks and led among Hispanics, according to voter exit polls yesterday.

Bush voters said moral values and the war on terrorism were what mattered most to them, but roughly half of those polled said the economy in their communities is worse now than it was four years ago, and they went overwhelmingly for Mr. Kerry.

Three-fourths of those who filled out polling questionnaires at voting places around the country said they worried about another terrorist attack. About half of them voted for Mr. Bush and half for Mr. Kerry. Young voters favored Mr. Kerry over Mr. Bush by 15 points.

Notably, the poll found that the president was the major motivating factor behind Mr. Kerry’s overall vote. Seventy-four percent of the senator’s supporters said their dislike of Mr. Bush was the primary reason for backing the Massachusetts Democrat.

Despite Mr. Kerry’s heavy emphasis on his wartime experiences in Vietnam, military veterans went strongly for Mr. Bush, as did independents and rural voters.

The exit polls, conducted for the Associated Press, generally reflected voter surveys that preceded the election and painted a picture of an electorate split down the middle about the state of the economy and the situation in Iraq. As earlier polls showed, voters who liked Mr. Bush’s policies in both these areas supported him and those who didn’t sided strongly with Mr. Kerry.

Bush voters named strong leadership and taking a clear, unambiguous stand on the issues as the qualities they most admired in the president. About half of all voters interviewed said that most of the time Mr. Kerry says what he thinks people want to hear.

Half the voters polled said the president paid too much attention to the interests of big business and not enough to the needs of ordinary Americans, and that they voted for Mr. Kerry because “he will bring about needed change.”

The chief issue for Kerry voters was the economy and jobs, an issue the Massachusetts Democrat chose not to emphasize in the closing weeks of his campaign, which focused far more on Iraq than economic concerns.

About four of 10 voters who said their financial well-being went largely unchanged over the last four years strongly supported Mr. Kerry. The rest were evenly split between being better off and worse off.

Notably, voters were about evenly divided about whether they approved or disapproved of the postwar situation in Iraq, but those who said things were going badly there strongly backed Mr. Kerry.

Long lines of voters showed up at polling places around the country in a fiercely fought election that analysts predicted could bring out as many as 125 million people, many of them first-time voters who were drawn into the electoral process by massive registration drives by both campaigns.

More than 105.4 million Americans turned out to vote four years ago, 51.2 percent of the voting-age population. But election forecasters were predicting that voter turnout could sharply boost that number to 58 percent or more, once all the votes are cast and counted.

In an election where the mood of the electorate has been volatile, both candidates ended the race in what most of the independent election surveys said was a virtual tie. In its last pre-election survey, the Gallup Poll had President Bush barely leading Sen. John Kerry 49 percent to 47 percent among likely voters. Gallup said the race would be a dead heat if the remaining undecided vote went to the Massachusetts Democrat.

In the first national election since the September 11 terrorist attacks, voters went to the polls with deeply divided, sometimes contradictory opinions about the direction of the country, the war on terrorism, Iraq and the economy.

When Gallup asked likely voters the weekend before Tuesday’s election if they were “satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time” 52 percent said dissatisfied versus 46 percent who said satisfied.

But when Gallup rephrased the question, asking, “How well are things going in the country today — very well, fairly well, pretty badly or very badly?” 59 percent said very or fairly well, while only 40 percent said pretty badly or very badly.

Those numbers in part reflected an economy that has turned around for Mr. Bush in the past year, creating more than 1.8 million jobs since August 2003, pushing unemployment down to 5.4 percent and increasing annual economic growth to nearly 4 percent.

Mr. Kerry has tried to make the economy a major issue in his campaign, but as the economic numbers improved, he turned increasingly to foreign-policy issues, especially the war in Iraq, a strategy some Democratic pollsters and state party chairmen said turned off some in their party’s base, who were more interested in domestic issues such as jobs and health care.

There was some polling evidence going into Election Day that Democrats were not pulling the level of support they have traditionally received from some of their party’s most-loyal voting blocs — blacks and Hispanics.

A Washington Post poll released Monday showed that 59 percent of Hispanic likely voters were backing Mr. Kerry, a sharp decline from previous Democratic nominees, while Republican campaign strategists were forecasting that Mr. Bush would exceed the 34 percent of Hispanic voters he won in 2000 — possibly by an additional 4 to 6 points.

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