White Working-Class Voters Fuel Clinton's Comeback

Hillary Clinton supporters in Columbus cheer exit polls in Ohio showing her ahead of Barack Obama in the presidential primary.
Hillary Clinton supporters in Columbus cheer exit polls in Ohio showing her ahead of Barack Obama in the presidential primary. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
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By Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) revved up her stalled presidential campaign in Ohio and Texas last night by recapturing white working-class voters who had swayed toward Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) in the Wisconsin primary two weeks ago.

Clinton's focus on experience may have helped to solidify her hold on many of these voters. About as many whites without college degrees ranked "experience" as their top candidate attribute as those who said "change" was their top priority -- a first in exit polls, and by a 2 to 1 ratio in Texas and 3 to 1 in Ohio, these voters felt that Clinton was more qualified to be commander in chief.

The exit poll also held preliminary evidence that Clinton's hard-hitting campaign over the past week may have paid dividends: Clinton captured Texas voters who made up their minds in the last three days by more than 20 percentage points. She attracted those voters by double-digits in Ohio.

More broadly, Clinton exceeded her post-Super Tuesday performances among both men and women, including white women, Democrats, independents, seniors (older white voters especially) and Roman Catholics.

Clinton also did better among voters who cited the economy as the top issue than she had in the Potomac primaries and in Wisconsin. The economy was again the defining issue in both states, particularly in hard-hit Ohio, where 59 percent of Democratic voters called it tops, a number surpassed only in the Michigan primaries. Nearly all Ohio Democratic voters, more than nine in 10, said the national economy is in "not so good" or "poor" shape; nearly eight in 10 are worried about their family's financial situation. In Texas, more than eight in 10 rated the economy negatively, and two-thirds are concerned about their own economic well-being.

And on an issue that became a flash point in the campaign's final days, eight in 10 Ohio voters said trade deals tend to take jobs away from people in their state; nearly six in 10 Texas voters agreed.

Another critical component of Clinton's Texas coalition was Hispanic voters, who had lifted her to a big win in California on Feb. 5. In Texas, Hispanics made up a third of the Democratic electorate, higher than in 2004, and two-thirds of these voters supported Clinton.

While Clinton outpaced Obama by better than 4 to 1 among older Hispanics, Obama ran nearly evenly with Clinton among those younger than 30. Obama won among all younger voters in both states, as he has in almost every Democratic caucus and primary. Clinton won Hispanic women in Texas by 40 percentage points, Hispanic men by 31 points.

Perhaps the biggest change of the night was among lower-educated white voters. In Ohio, white voters without college degrees, who made up nearly half of the electorate, supported Clinton by about 3 to 1 last night, driven by questions about Obama's electability, race and experience.

Presidential politics have loomed large in this solidly swing state for nearly a decade, and overall, more than half of Ohio voters said Obama is more likely to beat the Republican nominee in November. But among white voters without college degrees, six in 10 said Clinton has the better chance to win. Among college-educated whites, the results were reversed.

Race also may have played a role. More than two in 10 non-college-educated white voters said race was an important factor in their decision, compared with one in 10 among whites with college degrees.

Eight in 10 non-college educated whites said they would be satisfied with Clinton as the party's nominee, while just a narrow majority would be as content with Obama atop the ticket. There was no such divide among college-educated whites.

In both states, more voters overall said Clinton rather than Obama has offered clear and detailed plans to solve the country's problems. But voters were also more likely to say Clinton has attacked Obama unfairly.

Asked how the superdelegates should cast their convention votes, more than six in 10 Ohio and Texas voters said those party officials and activists should vote based on the results of the primaries and caucuses, not on their own perception of the party's best chance.

These network exit polls were conducted by Edison/Mitofsky for the National Election Pool, The Washington Post and other news organizations. The NEP is a consortium of ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, NBC News and the Associated Press. The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points. Error margins for subgroups are larger.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company