WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama drew even with Hillary Rodham Clinton among white males and led with black, young and higher-income voters, national exit polls showed Wednesday. White women rallied behind Clinton, who also got a boost from Hispanics, older people and those seeking an experienced candidate.
On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain bested Mitt Romney among people calling themselves regular Republicans and won broad backing, including from moderates and people valuing experience and leadership, according to exit polls of voters in 16 states. Romney's strongest advantages were with the GOP's most conservative voters, people seeking a strong stance against illegal immigrants, those satisfied with the status of the economy and strong proponents of the war in Iraq.
Obama and Clinton were each getting support from almost half of white men, marking a big improvement for the Illinois senator with a group whose support had mostly eluded him this year. Former Sen. John Edwards' decision to leave the Democratic race last week may have helped Obama with white males, who made up more than a quarter of Tuesday's Democratic voters from coast to coast, exit polls showed.
More than four in 10 women and about the same number of whites also were supporting Obama. That represented a gain for him from most previous Democratic nominating contests this year, though he still trailed Clinton by more than 10 percentage points in both categories, a significant gap in a two-person race.
"I think Obama can bring a more radical change," said Linda Ster, 44, a social worker in Nashville, Tenn. "I have voted for a Clinton already. I want something different _ way different _ this time."
The bulk of Obama's white support was coming from those under age 40 _ especially those younger than 30 _ a group he dominated in Tuesday's voting.
Countering that, Clinton had the support of almost six in 10 white women, giving her a muscular 24 percentage point edge with them. White women comprised more than one-third of Democratic voters in Tuesday's contests.
Obama got the backing of eight in 10 blacks, about his usual margin. But Clinton, a New York senator, countered with strong support from Hispanics, nearly two-thirds of whom supported her. Much of that strength came from Hispanic women and from the oldest Latino voters.
Clinton also was favored by older voters overall, with those over 65 giving her most of their votes, and had a clear lead with lower educated and low-income people. Obama won his party's most liberal voters while Clinton had a slight advantage with remaining Democrats.
About half of Democrats across the country said they want a candidate who will change things. As usual, Obama was that group's overwhelming favorite, getting about two-thirds of their votes. About one-fourth preferred experience, and Clinton garnered virtually all their votes.
Half of Democrats named the economy as the country's top issue, and that group gave Clinton a modest edge. She also led with those citing health care as the top issue, while Obama had an advantage with people most concerned about the war in Iraq.
Underscoring the state-by-state differences in Tuesday's races, Clinton and Obama were about even among California's whites, while she had near 20 percentage point leads among whites in more conservative Georgia and Missouri. Obama trailed slightly among men in Tennessee but led by a wide margin with them in Delaware.
In the GOP, Romney, McCain and Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee were about even in California among white born-again and evangelical Christians, while Huckabee easily won that group in Alabama. McCain and Huckabee split among Oklahoma voters calling themselves Republicans, while McCain won that same group by huge margins in more moderate New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Nationally, in a sign of McCain's broad support, he outperformed his GOP rivals among both men and women and did well with older voters, veterans and Hispanics. He also led among people saying they are somewhat conservative, Republicans who disapprove of the way the war in Iraq is going, and those who were not white evangelical or born-again Christians.
"I think he's the guy that can see the big picture," Heather Holliday, 28, a sales executive in Chicago, said of McCain.
McCain won the support of nearly four in 10 people calling themselves Republicans, about 5 percentage points better than Romney. McCain had not prevailed with that group in any previous GOP contests this year. He also finished on top among independents, a consistent McCain strength.
McCain had more than a 2-to-1 edge over Romney among moderates. Romney compensated by getting almost half the votes of people calling themselves very conservative, well ahead of Huckabee and McCain.
One-third of GOP voters said they are white, born-again and evangelical Christians, an area where McCain has been weaker. On Tuesday, Huckabee led among them, taking almost four in 10 of their votes, a disappointment to Romney, who has sought their votes as part of his conservative base of support.
Those preferring a candidate with strong leadership over agreement on the issues, and looking for experience, tilted overwhelmingly toward McCain. Nearly half of Republicans were looking for a candidate who shares their values. Romney led with that group.
Romney also had four in 10 votes from Republicans who want to deport illegal aliens, though McCain led with those favoring helping immigrants stay at least temporarily.
The top issue for Republicans also was the economy, with four in 10 naming it. Those voters favored McCain, as did those citing Iraq and terrorism. Romney's advantage came with the one-fourth who said illegal immigration was their No. 1 concern.
The results came from exit polling by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International conducted for The Associated Press and television networks. The samples came from 431 precincts across 16 states with primaries on Tuesday.
Included were interviews with 17,454 Democratic primary voters and 11,206 GOP voters. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 1 percentage point for both parties. Also included was a poll conducted by telephone with 1,005 Democrats and 813 Republicans in Arizona, California and Tennessee to determine the views of early and absentee voters.
AP Director of Surveys Trevor Tompson contributed to this report.