- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Voters were intensely worried about the future of the economy and unhappy with the way President Obama and Congress have been running things. The tide of dismay rolled through the groups that swing elections - women, independents, suburbanites - and turned more of them toward Republicans.

Voters seemed annoyed with all things Washington, rating neither the Republicans nor the Democrats favorably. Overwhelmingly, people at the polls Tuesday were dissatisfied with the way the federal government is working, and one-fourth said they were angry about it, according to preliminary exit poll results.

“I’ve never felt so much despair as I do right now,” said John Powers, a Bayville, N.J., retiree who voted Republican out of animus toward Mr. Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Tapping into the national mood, the “tea party” made a splash. About four out of 10 voters endorsed the new movement, although most said it didn’t influence how they voted in House races. Those who did use their ballots to send a message about the tea party were slightly more likely to be signaling support for the movement than opposition.

In contrast, voters were more likely to cast votes to express opposition to Mr. Obama than to support him. Six out of 10 independent voters disapproved of the job the president is doing.

Women - who typically lean Democratic and are vital to the party’s fortunes - split their House votes, exit polls say. Men favored Republican candidates more decisively than in recent elections.

More than half of suburban voters, who have been about evenly split in the past two elections, voted Republican. Independents, who favored Democrats in 2006 and 2008, moved decisively to the GOP this time.

The economy eclipsed all other issues.

More than 80 percent surveyed expressed worry about the direction the economy will take over the next year. Still, a majority said their own family’s financial situation was the same or better than two years ago, when a recession-plagued nation swept Mr. Obama into office and strengthened the Democrats’ congressional majorities.

The four out of 10 voters who said things for their families are worse now favored Republican House candidates.

About a third of voters said their household suffered a job loss in the past two years. Those setbacks didn’t give their votes a clear direction - the group divided over which party to support in House races.

Only about a quarter of voters blamed Mr. Obama for the nation’s economic troubles. Voters overall were more likely to point the finger at Wall Street bankers.

“We were definitely dipping down long before Barack ever came into office,” said Steve Wise, 28, a teacher voting mostly Democratic in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood. “If anything, he righted the ship and started bringing us back up.”

Yet, asked about Mr. Obama’s policies overall, about half of voters predicted he would hurt the country. Even women were divided on Mr. Obama’s policy — a troubling sign for Democrats.

A strong majority of women voted for Democrats in 2006, propelling their takeover of Congress that year, and again in 2008 when Obama won the White House.

Even in 1994, when Republicans took over Congress, women favored Democrats, although by a smaller margin of 5 percentage points.

This year women, whose economic fears were as stark as those of male voters, didn’t lean Democratic, exit polls say.

Voters in smaller demographic groups essential to the Democrats stuck by them, including blacks and young people. Hispanics favored Democrats over Republicans by about 2-to-1.

Those who called themselves tea party supporters resoundingly voted Republican. Almost all of them said they want Congress to repeal the new health care law. They also were focused on reducing the budget deficit, followed by cutting taxes.

In contrast, voters who cast ballots for Obama in 2008 mostly stuck by the Democrats and still back the president on health care and the economic stimulus package.

The preliminary results are from interviews that Edison Research conducted for the Associated Press and television networks with more than 12,800 voters nationwide. This included 11,231 interviews Tuesday in a random sample of 268 precincts nationally. In addition, land-line and cellular telephone interviews were conducted Oct. 22 to 31 with 1,601 people who voted early or absentee. The margin of sampling error was 1 percentage point for the entire sample, higher for subgroups.