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Analysts: What Happened Last Night

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On the morning after the 2010 elections, pollsters and journalists were digging deep into the network exit poll data to explain not just what happened but why. Most agreed that anger about the economy was a big factor and that, perhaps as a result, Democrats underperformed among key groups such as independents relative to 2008. Key differences in who turned out to vote also doomed the Democrats to huge losses in the house.

Gary Langer of ABC News says voters concerned about the economy have abandoned Democrats:

The results underscored the economic distress defining the 2010 election. Eighty-nine percent of voters said the national economy's in bad shape -- nearly as many as the record 92 percent who said so two years ago. What changed is the direction of their ire: In 2008, 54 percent of such voters favored Barack Obama. This year, 55 percent backed Republicans for the House.

Frank Newport agrees that the economy was the top issue:

The economy was clearly the top issue this year in the campaign, based on all available evidence. The economy remains the top issue when we ask Americans to name the most important problem facing the country. "Economic concerns" was the top issue voters told us they took into account in making their choice, and that held across all partisan groups. Our Gallup economic confidence data show a continuing low level of faith either in the current economy or the future of the economy. When Americans perceive there is a bad economy, the party in charge -- that is, the party in control of the White House and/or Congress -- generally tends to get the blame.

Perry Bacon, Jr notes that the electorate was a whole lot older than in 2008:

Exit polls showed voters ages 18 to 29 made up 11 percent of the electorate, a sharp drop from the 18 percent in 2008 and the lowest percentage in two decades. And these voters, who backed Obama by 34 points in 2008, backed congressional Democrats in 2010 by only 16 points. (The percentage of the electorate is used as a measure because turnout is always smaller in congressional elections than in presidential elections for all groups.)

Doug Schwartz on why Democrats lost the midwest:

The key change has been in the independent vote. In 2008, President Obama won the independent vote in all three states [Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin]. However, this year the Democratic candidate for Senator lost the independent vote by 36 points in Ohio, 8 points in Pennsylvania, and 12 points in Wisconsin, according to preliminary CBS News exit poll results.

Tom Curry argues that the electorate was more conservative than in 2006:

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.

Complete cross-tabulations of the exit poll results can be obtained through the election results web pages of CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and CBS News.

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