Presidential Exit Polls

Dr. Craig discusses the results of national exit polls from the 2012 U.S. Presidential election.


Given the results of this past week’s election, I think many of us were mystified how a president burdened so heavily with such a bad economy could have managed to somehow miraculously float above it and win reelection by a rather resounding victory. I think some of the exit polls that were conducted might shed some light on why people voted as they did. So I wanted to simply share with you this morning the results of the national exit polls conducted by the Associated Press and major television networks for your consideration and enlightenment.

In the election, Democrats made up the majority of the vote – 38% of the vote was by Democrats. 32% was Republican and 29% was Independent or some other party. So 38% Democratic, 32% Republican, 29% Independent.

In terms of gender and generations, there were significant gaps as to how people voted. As usual, women voted in larger numbers than men. Women were 53% of the vote and President Obama led by 11% among women. Romney led among men. So there was clearly a diversity there between how men voted and women voted. A majority of those under-45 voted for Obama. People aged 45 and older voted for Romney. So there was a clear generational difference as to how people voted. Obama easily won the youth vote 67% to 30%.

But the really watershed issue seemed to have been race. Romney won big among white voters. He took nearly 60% of the white vote. Obama lost every age group among white voters, including those aged 18-29. He had won this youth vote by 10 points in 2008. This time he actually lost the youth vote among white voters. But Obama won more than 90% of black voters and more than 70% of Hispanic voters. That overbalanced Romney’s large win among white voters. So clearly there is a significant racial difference in how people vote.

In terms of religion, there are some interesting statistics. Evangelicals turned out in record numbers for this election. They voted heavily for Romney. 78% of white evangelical Christians voted for Romney. That actually represented an increase over John McCain who took 74% of the evangelical vote. Moreover, the evangelical vote in 2012 was a record 27% of the vote. So 27% of the electorate in this election were evangelicals and they went 78% for Romney.

As for Catholics, the Catholic vote split. Obama took 50% of the Catholic vote. That was down from 2008. He had taken 54% in the previous election. Romney gained among Catholics; he took 48% and that was up from John McCain’s 45%. But still lagged behind Obama’s vote among Catholics. Romney won the white Catholic vote by a margin of 59% to 40%. Nevertheless, Obama narrowly won the Catholic vote overall by outperforming Romney again among Hispanic Catholics. Catholics made up 25% of the electorate this time and that was the lowest share of the electorate by Catholic votes since these exit polls began to be taken forty years ago.[1] So whereas the evangelical vote increased as a percentage of the electorate, Catholic votes slightly decreased. But it was striking to me that when you put these two together – evangelicals and Catholics, 27% and 25% – they make up well over 50% of the electorate in these national elections.

As for Jewish voters, Romney won 30% of the Jewish voters. That was up significantly from John McCain’s 21%. In fact, it was the strongest showing of the GOP among Jewish voters since 1988. But Jews represent only 2% of the voting population.

So, Romney’s gains among evangelicals and Catholics were not sufficient to turn the tide in his favor in part because they were a smaller part of the electorate than they used to be. Significantly, Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – which you will remember I shared a couple of weeks ago there is now something like 20% of the population that claim no religious affiliation at all or who are religious non-Christians – are a growing slice of the population and they lean heavily Democratic, as do non-white Christians. Obama won 7 out of 10 of the religiously unaffiliated. 70% of those who are religiously unaffiliated voted for the president. Now that was down actually from 2008 when he got 75% among the religiously unaffiliated. Nevertheless, you can still see that this is a block of voters that go heavily Democratic.

Daniel Cox, who is the Research Director of the Public Religion Research Institute said,

One thing really driving this is the dramatic shift in the character and profile of American religiosity in general. Americans [are] becoming less white, less Christian and those people strongly support Democrats.[2]

But we still need to ask, “Why did black and Hispanic voters vote as they did?” Why did they go overwhelmingly for Obama? The exit polls indicated that Obama has the touch with these voters. Obama had a 10-point lead over Romney on the question of which candidate is more “in touch” with voters like them. Of those who said that Obama was more in touch with them, 91% voted for Obama. This indicates that the Democratic strategy in the election worked effectively. I saw a very interesting article in the Washington Post where it described how, back in the beginning of the campaign, the Democratic strategists had to decide how to run this campaign. They knew they couldn’t run it on the basis of the economy or Obama’s record. So they had to characterize Mitt Romney that made him an undesirable candidate. And they faced the decision: should we portray Romney to the voters as a flip-flopper (is that the problem?) or should we portray him as a rich, out of touch capitalist. The polling they took indicated the latter would be most effective. So they launched a campaign to portray Romney as an out of touch, greedy, capitalist who doesn’t care about ordinary people. By the exit polling, it seems to suggest that that strategy paid off. Most voters said that Romney’s policy would generally favor the rich. 7 out of 10 said that Obama’s policy generally favor the middle class or poor. So, Obama won a majority of those whose family income was less than 50,000 a year while Romney won among those who have an income of 50,000 or more. So among the 50,000 or less income group, Obama carried the day and they felt he was more in touch with them. Those who made 50,000 or more went for Romney.

In terms of the economy, 59% of the voters said that the economy was the biggest issue facing the nation. You would think, why wouldn’t that hurt President Obama? Well, about half of the voters said that George Bush is more to blame for the current economic problems than the president. 4 in 10 laid the blame on the current president. So, many more laid the blame on George Bush; they just didn’t blame President Obama for the current economic malaise. About a quarter of voters said that their family’s financial situation is better than it was four years ago and 40% said that it is about the same and both of these groups went for Obama. That is very interesting. Together, that means 65% of the voting electorate felt that their economic situation was just as good or better than four years ago. They obviously weren’t feeling a lot of pain. And these groups went for Obama. For those who said they were worse off – which was only about a third, surprisingly – they voted for Romney.

Interesting also was the fact that 6 out of 10 voters said that taxes should be increased. 60% said they wanted to see more taxes, predominantly on the rich. But 60% said that taxes should not be raised to cut the budget deficit. Now, isn’t that fascinating? 60% said raise taxes, but don’t apply it to the deficit. Apparently, they want the money to be spent. So raise taxes but then continue spending it on various programs. Don’t use it to cut the budget deficit.

Finally, 42% of voters said that President Obama’s response to Superstorm Sandy was important in their vote for president and most of them, not surprisingly, voted for his reelection. 42% thought this was important and they voted for Obama. The 54% who said that Superstorm Sandy was not important for their vote mostly supported Romney.

So, interpret those as you may. Those are what the exit polls indicate. I am sure Republican strategists will be pouring over these in the coming weeks and months to try to sort them out.[3]

[1] 4:59

[2] Daniel Cox as quoted in Michelle Boorstein and Scott Clement, “Romney won over white evangelicals, Catholics, but they weren’t enough to win race,” The Washington Post, November 7, 2012. See (accessed September 14, 2013).

[3] Total Running Time: 12:23 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)