Healing economy key to Obama’s Ohio win

President Barack Obama was able to confound conventional wisdom, winning re-election despite high unemployment and lingering economic problems that many thought would derail his presidency.

But enough voters seemed hopeful in a brighter future and were willing to keep a president they find likable and in touch with the average person, final exit poll results purchased by the Dayton Daily News show.

Obama cobbled together a coalition of the liberal base, along with young people, moderates, women, minorities and lower-income people, the poll shows.

He even had a slight gain from his last election with white evangelical or born again Christians, according to the poll, which included interviews with nearly 4,000 Ohio voters as they left the polls or were surveyed by phone after voting early.

Turnout in Ohio was slightly down from 2008, with 38 percent of voters on Tuesday identifying themselves to pollsters as Democrats, compared to 31 percent Republican and 31 percent independent. Obama was the choice of 88 percent of liberals, while Republican Mitt Romney took 10 percent. Obama lost some of the moderates and conservatives who supported him in 2008 and also weathered the loss of some independents, whites, men, voters aged 45-64, Catholics and college graduates.

But he made other gains, the exit poll found, picking up more support from women, people under 30, high school graduates and others.

Nearly half of the voters polled said they felt enthusiastic or were satisfied about the Obama administration and 55 percent had a favorable opinion of him, while 45 percent had a favorable view of Romney.

The National Election Pool Exit Poll was conducted by Edison Research. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent.

Obama’s efforts to paint his opponent as a champion of the rich paid off, with 56 percent saying Romney’s policies favor the rich, while only 10 percent felt that way about Obama. Both candidates relentlessly courted the middle class, but Obama won that battle, with 43 percent saying his policies favor that group while 35 percent said Romney’s did.

Half of voters said Obama is more in touch with people like them, while 46 percent said that of Romney.

“People really didn’t think that Romney understood people like them, which would indicate that his wealth was a problem,” said Nancy Martorano Miller, associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton.

Pollsters found a majority of voters support some increase in income taxes, an issue Obama framed as one of fairness and Romney cast as a job killer. The poll found that a majority support an income tax increase — at least for some people. About 44 percent said they support a tax increase for those earning $250,000 or more, while another 12 percent said they support a tax increase for everyone.

Those favoring more taxes supported Obama, while those who said income tax increases should not be increased for anyone favored Romney. Obama’s plan for raising taxes on upper-income earners is part of his debt-reduction strategy.

Pollsters also asked about the role of government in people’s lives — another divisive theme in the campaigns. Romney’s view prevailed on that question, with 56 percent saying businesses and individuals could take over some government functions, while 39 percent said government should do more to solve problems. Obama supporters hit hard on that very subject in the last days of the campaign as Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast and a tape from a primary debate was endlessly replayed showing Romney saying disaster emergency response may better be handled by the states and the private sector, rather than the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Voters were wide apart on the hot-button issues of abortion and the health care reform law.

The poll found 55 percent said abortion should be legal and 39 percent illegal. Obama dominated the vote among those who said it should be legal and Romney netted huge margins for those wanting to outlaw it.

The numbers were similarly lopsided on the question of what should happen to the 2010 health care law, which was a centerpiece of Obama’s first term and which Romney pledged to repeal as soon as he took office. The poll found 53 percent wanted the 2010 health care act repealed in part or entirely — with a quarter of the voters adopting Romney’s full-repeal proposal — while 41 percent want health care reform expanded or left as is.

One issue — the economy — defined the campaign, and has dominated this country since a collapsing housing market and financial sector sparked the Great Recession. But voters gave mixed answers to a series of questions about the economy, and it clearly was not the knockout blow that Romney hoped it would be.

The two candidates split the vote almost evenly among those who had personally experienced job loss in their families in the last four years, and those who had not.

Most voters — 41 percent — said rising prices were their major economic concern, followed by unemployment at 32 percent. Obama won with those groups, while Romney won with people who believed taxes were the most pressing economic problem.

The poll found 73 percent of voters said the economy was poor or not so good, while 25 percent said the nation’s economy was good or excellent. The same percentage said they were better off today than four years ago, nearly a third said the were worse off and 43 percent said they were about the same.

The divide between voters showed clearly in the question on whether the economy is improving, with 36 percent saying it was getting better, 34 percent saying it was getting worse and 29 percent saying it is staying the same.

Voters were nearly evenly divided over which candidate would better handle the economy, but a majority of them — 51 percent — said the blame for the economy lies with former President George W. Bush, not Obama.

The auto industry bailout played very well for Obama in Ohio, with 60 percent of voters approving of it and 74 percent of those choosing Obama over Romney.

The exit polls illustrate the sometimes vast differences in viewpoints among Americans, meaning that regardless of what is done on some issues, a large percentage of voters are not going to be happy. Political experts say Obama’s challenge will be to bridge differences in this widely polarized nation and with a divided Congress that won’t look much different next year than it does now.

Miller said she finds it hard to not be cynical. Politicians from both sides talk about reaching across the aisle after an election, but partisans tend to resist any compromise, she said, especially since voters didn’t really punish anyone on Tuesday by turning out large numbers of incumbents.

“This looks like a status quo election,” said Mark Caleb Smith, director of Cedarville University’s Center for Political Studies. “They have a way of kicking the can down the road. I just don’t know if the forces are in place for them to compromise. I honestly hope they are.”

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