- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Barack Obama’s support from blacks and young people has intensified during his five-month slog through the Democratic primaries. Hillary Rodham Clinton has grown ever stronger among the elderly, especially older white women.

Exit polls of voters showing the strength of support for each candidate underscore the challenge facing Mr. Obama: As he shifts his focus to a likely general election against Republican John McCain, he must maintain the loyalty of longtime supporters while winning over Democrats who have been reluctant to budge from Mrs. Clinton.

The primary voting ends Tuesday with contests in South Dakota and Montana. A look at exit polls from 33 previous primaries in which both candidates competed shows that in a race with few major policy differences, each has patched together coalitions of racial, social and ideological groups that have cemented.

A few groups, if anything, have developed progressively stronger attachments to their candidate.

In primaries held through Super Tuesday on Feb. 5 - the day Mr. Obama showed his ability to win contests across the country - the senator from Illinois was getting an average of 80 percent of the black vote. That was a commanding advantage that included the 78 percent that he got from blacks in South Carolina, the first state on the calendar with significant numbers of black voters.

Yet as sniping between the two candidates’ camps made race a more polarizing factor, Mr. Obama’s support from blacks grew even stronger. In primaries since Super Tuesday, he’s gotten nearly 90 percent of the black vote.

“I think it’s due to his religion” and the controversy over his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., said Yulonda Howe, 46, of Los Angeles. She said the black community understands that “on some things, you can disagree with your pastor.”

Mr. Obama has also seen his support grow among voters younger than 30. In contests through Super Tuesday, his average advantage with them was 17 percentage points; since then, his average edge has been 27 points.

Mr. Obama’s growth with young voters has been even sturdier among whites younger than 30. Their support for him grew from an 18-point margin through Super Tuesday to 38 points in later primaries - including a 60-point edge in May in Oregon, a hotbed of progressive college campuses.

Mrs. Clinton has won growing support from older voters, especially white women. Whites ages 65 and older supported the senator from New York by an average 28-point margin through Super Tuesday, and 39 points since then.

Her edge among older white women has averaged 45 points since Super Tuesday. That is up nine points from the earlier contests and includes margins exceeding 50 points in May in North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky.

“She comes the closest to what I believe” on leaving Iraq and sparking the economy, said Jan Haus, 66, of Scottsdale, Ariz. “She knows what to do around the White House.”

Working-class whites and whites who said race was an important factor in choosing a candidate also leaned toward Mrs. Clinton by stronger margins after Super Tuesday, as have white men. That could be because there were more Southern and Rust Belt states, where whites were more likely to back Mrs. Clinton, in the later contests than in the earlier ones.

Charles Franklin, a political scientist and authority on polling at the University of Wisconsin, said the candidates’ performances with voting blocs in particular states can vary according to the strength of their campaigns locally and each state’s overall ideological tilt. But he said the historic nature of this year’s Democratic race - pitting a woman against a black for the nomination - also had a big impact.

“The uniqueness of the candidates almost demanded that there would be this demographic division,” Mr. Franklin said.

A candidate’s performance with blocs of voters in primaries does not necessarily signal what will happen in the general election, when voters are more focused on issues and their own partisan loyalties. Early polls pitting Mr. Obama against Mr. McCain show varying results on who is ahead among white women and older voters.

The data comes from interviews with more than 44,000 voters in the Democratic primaries in the 33 state primaries where both candidates competed. The margin of sampling error was one percentage point, larger for some subgroups.

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