Exit Polls: Scandals and Iraq Hurt GOP

The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 8, 2006; 6:37 AM

WASHINGTON -- It turns out all politics isn't local. Voters angry at President Bush, peeved by Washington scandal and tired of the war in Iraq vented their frustration on Republican candidates across the country.

"Maybe it'll send a message," said Sheila Perkinson, a registered Republican who acknowledged to voting for a "mixed bag" of candidates in Baltimore. "I'm sort of embarrassed to be a Republican, sort of whispering it when I go in there."

Rejecting an old political saw, 60 percent of voters questioned after casting their ballots Tuesday said national issues trumped local matters. Democrats enjoyed a 10-point advantage among those voters more worried about national problems.

The wave that swept Democrats back into control of the House had contours similar to the Republican takeover of Congress 12 years ago.

Middle-class voters who defected to the GOP in 1994 came back to the Democrats this year. Independents voters and suburbanites followed suit, according to the exit polls.

Democrats and Republicans split white voters, who had stuck by Republicans in the last midterm election. Three-fourths of Hispanics backed Democrats, despite Republican efforts, led by Bush, to woo more of them over the last few years. Blacks remain reliably Democratic.

An issue that Bush and the Republicans relied on in the past two elections _ combatting terrorists _ slipped away from them this time.

More than seven in 10 people surveyed said terrorism was very important to their vote, but they divided their ballots between the two parties. In the 2004 presidential election, Bush had almost a 20-point advantage over Democrat John Kerry on handling terrorism.

Anger at Bush bubbled up in the Democrats' column. More than a third of those surveyed said their House vote was cast partly to oppose the president. Fifty-seven percent of voters disapproved of Bush's presidency; three in 10 were angry about it.

"I think in the back of my mind I probably was voting against Bush," Gwen McIntosh, 56, of Cincinnati said after voting a straight Democratic ticket.

Voters were even less impressed with Congress. Only 37 percent approved of the way Congress was doing its job, compared with 42 percent approval for Bush.

Those who said scandals and corruption were extremely important _ about four in 10 of all voters _ were far more likely to vote Democratic. Just over half of voters disapproved of the way Republican leaders have dealt with the congressional page scandal.

As he campaigned for fellow Republicans, Bush warned that Democrats wanted to cut and run in Iraq. To many voters, that seemed like a good idea: 29 percent want to withdraw all troops, and an additional 26 percent said the U.S. should bring some of them home now. Thirty-seven percent want to keep troop strength the same or even send more.

Six in 10 voters said the war hasn't improved the nation's long-term security, and they voted for Democrats by 3-1.

Greg Boyce, 24, who voted in Morgantown, W.Va., described himself as a moderate with not party loyalty. But the Iraq war, he said, "kind of soured me on the Republican Party."

The national poll of 13,208 voters was conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 1 percentage point, higher for subgroups.

In the exit polls, people leaving voting booths in selected precincts around the country are asked by interviewers to fill out a confidential questionnaire to learn how they voted and why.

Besides in-person interviews Tuesday, the survey included 1,500 absentee or early voters interviewed by telephone during the past week in 10 states with heavy early voting.

© 2006 The Associated Press