Moderate Voters Lean Toward Democrats

By Michael A. Fletcher and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Democratic House candidates picked up significant support among voters who inhabit the political center yesterday, and a majority of all voters told pollsters they disapproved of the war in Iraq and the president's job performance. Few said they were getting ahead financially.

Most voters said national, not local, issues were foremost in their minds in casting votes for Congress.

A national exit poll of Election Day and absentee voters found more than half supported the withdrawal of some troops from Iraq, and three in 10 wanted all U.S. forces to come home now -- a position derided by Republican Party leaders during the campaign as "cut and run." Just two years ago, more than half of voters approved of the decision to go to war.

More broadly, the poll found many voters in a pessimistic mood, with 55 percent saying the country is seriously off on the wrong track. Despite a surging stock market and low unemployment rates touted by Republicans as sure signs of a strong economy, fewer than a third of respondents said they believe they are better off financially than they were two years ago.

Nearly six in 10 voters said they disapprove of the way President Bush is handling his job, a sharp decline in support from two years ago. And most of those who disapproved of the president's job performance said they voted for Democratic House candidates yesterday.

Similarly, 61 percent of voters said they disapproved of how the Republican-controlled Congress is performing, and 70 percent of them voted Democratic.

This was an electorate in which 47 percent of the voters described themselves as moderates and more than a quarter as independents, most of whom said they favored Democratic candidates. In 2004, moderates split their congressional votes more narrowly among candidates from the two political parties and independents gave an edge of 49 percent to 46 percent to Democratic candidates.

The exit-poll data from the National Election Pool, a consortium of news organizations, suggested little change in the turnout of white evangelicals and others considered to be the core of the GOP's support. Republican House candidates received support from 54 percent of voters who identified themselves as weekly churchgoers, and from 70 percent of white evangelicals -- slightly less than the 74 percent who supported Republican candidates in 2004. Moreover, self-identified Republicans strongly supported GOP candidates, just as Democratic voters overwhelmingly supported Democrats.

White Catholics, 54 percent of whom voted for Republican House candidates two years ago, this year split their votes more evenly.

Democratic House candidates also fared well among voters who said they were very concerned about the war, scandals in Congress and the economy.

Of the 39 percent of voters who said the economy was extremely important to their vote, six in 10 said they voted Democratic. About the same percentage called corruption and scandals in government extremely important to their Election Day decision, and six in 10 of them also said they voted for Democrats.

Overall, 60 percent of voters said the war in Iraq has hurt the long-term security of the United States, a finding in direct contradiction to the argument made by Bush and other top Republicans.

Thirty-nine percent of voters said terrorism was extremely important in determining their vote, and the survey suggested that they were only narrowly supporting Republican House candidates. Another issue that Republicans hoped to capitalize on was immigration, but fewer than one in three cited it as extremely important in influencing their decision, and they only narrowly favored Republican candidates.

About six in 10 voters said that they believe illegal immigrants working in the United States should be offered a chance to apply for legal status, a position that was supported by Bush but rejected by House Republicans who have pushed an enforcement-first approach to controlling illegal immigration. Democratic candidates won support from 61 percent of those who backed a path to citizenship, according to the poll.

Democrats also fared extremely well among most minority voters, despite a concerted push by the Republican National Committee to attract more of them to the GOP fold. African Americans, who accounted for about one in 10 voters, overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates, giving them 89 percent of their votes, according to the exit-poll data.

Latinos, meanwhile, also made up about a 10th of the electorate, based on the survey. Seven in 10 Latinos reported voting for Democrats.

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