A solid showing among his key '08 demographic constituencies —coupled with a small dose of economic optimism — and a feeling that Mitt Romney was out of touch with the middle class helped propel President Obama to re-election, according to exit polling conducted Tuesday.
Compared with the results four years ago, Obama was able to maintain his leads among women, young voters, African-American voters and Hispanics in his campaign against Mitt Romney.
After all the discussion of Obama's play for women — and his effort to make Romney appear extreme on women's issues — the president won among female voters by 12 points. He took 55 percent of the demographic, compared with 43 percent for Romney — not far off from 2008, when he won women by 13 points.
In particular, the president won big among unmarried women, who backed the president by a whopping 38 points, 68 percent to 30 percent.
But unlike 2008, when Obama won men by one percentage point, the president lost men to Romney this year. He took 45 percent of their vote, compared with 52 percent for Romney, according to the exit polls.
Obama prevailed among the two minority groups that supported him in large numbers in 2008: Latinos and African Americans.
Ninety-three percent of African-American voters backed Obama, while just 6 percent who backed Romney. Turnout among the demographic remained steady at 13 percent of the overall electorate.
Obama's support increased with Hispanic voters: he won 69 percent of the demographic, compared with 29 percent for Romney. That 40-point deficit is slightly higher than his 36-point victory among Hispanic voters in 2008.
And the president saw higher backing among Asian voters, who sided with him by a 49-point margin, 74 percent to 25 percent. The margin was 27 points in 2008.
Although he again lost Protestant voters to his GOP opponent, Obama held onto his advantages among Catholic and Jewish voters. He won 70 percent of the Jewish vote, down from 78 percent in 2008, and he won Catholic voters 50 percent to 47 percent. Romney carried Protestant voters by a 13-point margin, 56 percent to 43 percent.
While Obama's previously huge margin among 18 to 29-year-olds dropped slightly – he won the age group by 34 points in 2008, compared with 24 points this year — the overall turnout was up slightly among young voters, certainly a factor in his victory.
Like McCain, Romney won older voters: he took 51 percent of 45- to 64-year-olds and 55 percent of voters 65 and older.
On the jobs front, Obama benefited from voters' slightly improved outlook about the direction of the country and the economy. Four in 10 voters said the economy is getting better, a group Obama won with 88 percent, and voters were roughly even split on the direction of the country: 52 percent of those surveyed said the country is still on the wrong track, while 46 percent said it's headed in the right direction.
The economy was still king at the polls: 59 percent of voters named it, and unemployment in particular, as their top issue. Of those voters, 51 percent of them chose Romney, compared with 47 percent for Obama. Romney also got high marks from voters on his proposed handling of the federal deficit.
Obama's issue strengths, on the other hand, came on foreign policy and health care — although both issues that fell much lower on voters' priority lists this year. Eighteen percent of voters said health care was their top issue, and 5 percent chose foreign policy.
But despite Romney's slight advantage on the economy, Obama's team proved able to portray Romney as someone who aims to help just the wealthy: exit polls showed that more than half of voters think the former Massachusetts governor's policies would favour the rich, compared with 34 percent who thought they'd favour the middle class and just 2 percent who said they'd favour the poor. For Obama, 43 percent said his policies would favour the middle class and 31 percent said they'd favour the poor, compared with only 10 percent said they'd favour the rich.
Reflecting national trends toward increased polarisation, Obama won more Democrats than he did in 2008 and Romney won more Republicans than McCain did that year. Obama took a full 92 percent of self-described Democrats, and Romney won 93 percent of Republicans.
The president lost among independents by a larger margin than he did in 2008: he took just 40 percent of independents this year to Romney's 58 percent, an 18-point gap that four years ago was just 12 points. However, Obama won among self-described “moderates” 57 percent to 41 percent.
Obama kept his previous margins among low-income voters, but medium- and high-income voters moved toward the GOP this year. Obama carried voters who make less than $50,000 60 percent to 38 percent, but Romney won voters who with an income of $50,000 or more.
In terms of geography, Obama won urban areas handily but lost to Romney in the suburbs and in rural areas. Of population areas with over 500,000, Obama won 70 percent to 28 percent; he also won in areas with a population between 50,000 and 500,000 by 18 points.
Romney won the suburbs by 2 points, 50 percent to 48 percent, and rural areas 60 percent to 38 percent.
National exit polling was conducted by the Associated Press and the television networks at about 350 polling places around the country, surveying about 60,000 voters.