Deep Fissures Among Democrats Apparent With Ind., N.C. Voters

Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 7, 2008; Page A06

Last night's Democratic primaries followed a generally familiar script, with African Americans and new voters lifting Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) to a big win in North Carolina, while deep divisions along demographic lines produced a much tighter race in Indiana.

About one-fifth of voters in each state said they were participating in their first nomination contest. Obama won first-time primary voters in North Carolina by more than 40 points; in Indiana, he scored a 22-point win among those voters, according to network exit polls.

Black voters have broken for Obama by wide margins throughout the primaries, and in both states about nine in 10 backed Obama. In North Carolina, 34 percent of Democratic primary voters were African American. Although Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) won the state's white voters by 24 percentage points, it was not enough to close the gap.

The two crucial primaries came a week after Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., reignited a furor over his controversial views. Although Obama distanced himself from Wright, nearly half of voters in both Indiana and North Carolina said the issue was important in their decision.

Those who said Wright was a significant factor in deciding whom to support voted for Clinton by wide margins, with about nine in 10 whites who called the issue "very important" voting for her. But nearly as many voters called the matter "not at all important" to their vote -- and those voters, white or black, went largely for Obama. The issue was further mitigated by the fact that about three-quarters of voters in Indiana and North Carolina said they made up their minds more than a week ago.

While the controversy over Wright did not appear to tip the balance in either contest last night, exit polls revealed fresh signs of fissures among primary voters.

Fewer than half of Clinton voters in both states said they would support Obama over McCain in the general election should that be the matchup. More than half of those backing Obama said they would be unhappy with Clinton as the party's standard-bearer.

Overall, Clinton eked out a close win over Obama in Indiana last night, a much narrower victory than she recorded recently in Ohio and Pennsylvania -- states with broadly similar demographics to those of the Hoosier State.

According to the Election Day exit poll, Clinton won among white women, seniors and those with lower incomes. But among some of her core support groups, her advantages appeared to have been attenuated.

Clinton's 20-point margin among whites in Indiana is slimmer than it was in Ohio or Pennsylvania. And some of Obama's advance may be due to a better showing among white voters looking for a candidate who understands their problems. In Indiana, Obama did about 10 percentage points better among "empathy voters" than he did in Ohio or Pennsylvania.

As they have in almost every state, white women in Indiana went for Clinton by a wide margin, but her 20-point win among these voters was considerably more narrow than it was in Ohio or Pennsylvania. Moreover, Obama scored a double-digit win among white voters under 30 in both of last night's primaries, better than he has done in recent contests.

Obama may also have benefited from changing the tenor of his campaign. After a decisive loss in Pennsylvania two weeks ago, Obama attempted a more positive stance, and voters in Indiana and North Carolina may have noticed. While half of Democratic voters in Pennsylvania said he had attacked Clinton unfairly, that slipped to about 40 percent last night. By contrast, two-thirds of voters in both states said Clinton had targeted Obama unfairly.

More broadly, a closely watched divide among white voters extended to Indiana, with Clinton winning by 30 points among white voters without college degrees but running even with Obama among those with college degrees. Clinton prevailed among both groups in North Carolina, winning non-college whites by more than 40 points and those with college degrees by seven points.

Indiana's primary was open to all of the state's registered voters, and Clinton appeared to edge out Obama among both self-identified Democrats and Republicans, while Obama held a slim margin among independents. Most non-Democrats who participated in the primary said they would stick with their top Democrat in hypothetical matchups with the presumptive GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

The polls were conducted by Edison-Mitofsky for the National Election Pool, a consortium of ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, NBC News and the Associated Press. Overall, 1,881 interviews were conducted with Democratic voters at 35 randomly selected polling places in Indiana, and 1,916 were conducted in 35 precincts in North Carolina. The North Carolina exit poll also included the results of a pre-election telephone survey with 401 absentee or early voters. The results from the full polls have error margins of plus or minus four percentage points. Error margins are larger for subgroups.

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