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Exit polls: Fewer voters than 2008, but a broadly similar electorate

Early exit polls show the national electorate shaping up to be very similar to 2008, with a nearly identical share of non-white and young voters. Voters this year were also in-line ideologically with those from four years ago, although there may turn out to be fewer moderates.

By the end of the night there was no apparent narrowing on underlying partisan identification: in the early exits this year, Democrats outnumber Republicans by six percentage points.

Unsurprisingly, the single top issue on voters minds was the economy, and the evident lock-in that characterized the campaign was on full display: around seven in 10 voters said they made up their minds before September.

Unlike in 2008, more voters oppose an active federal government than support it. But the mood of the country has improved from four years ago — with much of those gains coming among Democrats.

The economy remains the overwhelming top issue for most voters — both in national exit polling and in the nine swing state exit polls that The Washington Post subscribes to.

For all of the talk of the electorate swinging in the race's final days — perhaps as a result of Hurricane Sandy and Obama's handling of it — approximately seven in 10 voters said they made their mind up about a candidate before September.

At the end of the day, the soft national economy wasn’t enough to lift Romney in the presidential contest, even as it was the clear No. 1 issue for voters. In the exit poll, just as many said they trusted Obama to handle the economy as said so about Romney. As expected the GOP legacy hurt Romney, as far more said they blamed George W. Bush, not Obama, for the economic problems in the country, 53-38.

A continually changing electorate also worked in the president’s favor. Some 72 percent of all voters were white, in the preliminary data, the lowest share on record.

About three in 10 say the economy is in poor shape, an improved view from 2008. Romney wins these voters by a very wide margin. But among the plurality of voters who say the economy is only “not so good” Obama wins by 55 to 42. And obama wins by wide margins who see the economy in good or better shape. Obama picked up just 40 percent of white voters, but soared again among African Americans and won Hispanics by a 40-point margin.

The electorate also turned out to be about as Democratic as the one that lifted Obama to victory four years ago. Women voted to reelect Obama by a double-digit margin, while men sided more narrowly for Romney.

Still, there were changes that may be more ominous indicators for the president in his second term. A slim majority of all voters said the federal government is doing too many things that should be left to businesses and individuals. That’s a switch from 2008, when more said government should be more active.

And when it comes to the president’s signature health care reform, voters were split against it: 49 percent said it should be repealed at least in part, while 44 percent said it should be left intact or expanded.

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