An Older, More Conservative Electorate

NEW YORK - A deeply pessimistic electorate — and one skewed to older voters — showed up to vote this year, according to exit poll interviews.

In early exit poll data, 62 percent of voters said the economy was the most important issue facing the country and 56 percent said the country is on the wrong track.

With 14.8 million unemployed – 4.5 million more than on Election Day 2008 – it wasn’t surprising that the economy was the dominant issue in the election.

Nearly nine in 10 voters said the state of the economy was not good. And nearly 90 percent of voters were also pessimistic about the nation’s economic future.

Early exit poll data also suggested that the 2010 electorate was turning out to be significantly older and more conservative than in previous elections.

The data indicated that a remarkable 25 percent of the electorate was age 65 and over – a big jump from the 2008 election when only 15 percent of the electorate was age 65 and over.

And the early data also suggested that younger voters were not responding to urgent pleas from Obama and Democratic leaders to vote in the way they had in 2008.

Young voters (those age 18 to 29) accounted for 10 percent of the voters; in 2008 they accounted for 18 percent of the electorate.

Only 3 percent of 2010 voters said they were voting for the first time — a sharp drop-off from 2008 when 11 percent of the electorate was first-term voters.

After the federal government’s bailouts of banks and the domestic auto industry — followed by the Democrats’ $814 billion stimulus program — most voters seem to have soured on the idea that government ought to do more to fix what ails the U.S. economy.

The era of more activist government can’t come too soon for many: 56 percent said they wanted government to do less, while only 39 percent said government should do more to solve the nation's problems.

In the Republican wave of 1994 when the GOP gained 54 seats in the House and eight in the Senate, 56 percent of voters said government was "doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals."

That number declined in subsequent elections until it bottomed out at 43 percent in 2008, as President Barack Obama was elected president by winning 28 states.

On the day Obama was elected, a bare majority of voters, 51 percent, said government "should do more to solve problems."

That support for more activist government has eroded sharply — to only 39 percent — after only two years.

Only 32 percent of voters said they thought the stimulus had helped the economy; while two-thirds said it either hurt the economy or had no effect at all.

A relatively high 41 percent of voters identified themselves as conservatives with only 20 percent calling themselves liberals and 39 percent identifying as moderates

In the 2006 midterm elections in which the Democrats took control of Congress, only 32 percent of the electorate identified itself as conservative and when Obama won in 2008 only 34 percent called themselves conservative.

In Indiana, a state that Obama narrowly carried two years ago, his party was sharply rebuffed Tuesday, as NBC News projected Republican Dan Coats the winner of the Senate race. The seat had been held by Democrat Evan Bayh.

Fifth-three percent of voters in Indiana said they considered their vote as a vote to oppose Obama.

And Tea Party supporters accounted for nearly half of the Indiana electorate.

As a former lobbyist and former senator, Coats wasn’t the favorite of many Tea Party people who backed anti-Establishment candidates in the GOP primary, but on election day they flocked to support him

Coats won 83 percent of Tea Party supporters’ votes, compared with just 11 percent for Rep. Brad Ellsworth, his Democratic opponent.

In 2008, Obama carried Ohio by more than 200,000 votes. But on Tuesday, NBC News projected that Republican Rob Portman — a former Bush administration trade official and GOP congressman — would win the Senate seat, defeating Democrat Lee Fisher. Fifty-six percent of Ohio voters said they disapproved of Obama's performance as president — about the same level as in the early national exit poll data.

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