To quote the President, and to understate it greatly, I feel bad about what happened Tuesday. Yet official exit polls reveal a few warnings for Republicans tempted (as anyone might be) to overplay their hands.
Republicans are as unpopular as Democrats. According to Tuesday's exit polls, voters viewed the parties equally unfavorably (Dems: 43% fav/52% unfav; GOP: 41% fav/53% unfav). But nearly a quarter (23%) of voters unfavorable toward Republicans still voted for them for Congress.
More voters blame Wall Street or Bush than Obama for the country's current economic problems. A plurality (35%) blame Wall Street, with almost as many (30%) blaming Bush. Fewer (23%) blame Obama. A majority of voters blaming Wall Street, however, voted Republican for Congress, suggesting a missed opportunity for Democrats to promote our Wall Street reform accomplishments.
There is no mandate for extending the Bush tax cuts for everyone. A majority want to extend the Bush tax cuts only for families earning less than $250,000 (37%) or for no one (15%). It would be a mistake to infer from these elections broad support for one of Republicans' key talking points.
In fact, few say cutting taxes is a priority at all. Only 18% said cutting taxes should be a priority for the next Congress. And about as many voters said "spending to create jobs" (37%) should be the highest priority as said "reducing the deficit" (34%).
And voters continue to be divided on health care, when no detail is given. Republican pollster Bill McInturff argues here that a plurality voted to register opposition to health care reform. But I see a majority that says it was not a driver. And exit polls confirm: about half (48%) say they want repeal, but just as many want to keep it as is (16%), or even expand it (31%). If Republicans actually start fighting to repeal mandatory maternity coverage, mandatory breast cancer coverage, and other popular proposals, expect voter reaction to change.
A "Southwestern Strategy" hurt with Latino voters, and overall. It's quite likely that Republicans' strategy sharp anti-immigrant imagery in Western races could have cost them Senate seats. Latinos comprised 8% of the electorate in this election, a number unchanged since 2006 or 2008. In California, where Democrats performed a bit better than expected, the Latino percentage is up (22%) compared to both of the previous elections. Latino support for Democrats nationally hasn't waned either, and in fact has stayed essentially constant (65%) to previous years (68% in 2008). Polling released by Latino Decisions this week showed even wider margins for Harry Reid (90% Reid, 8% Angle) than exit polls suggest. Further, Nate Silver writes that pre-election polling averages were off in several states because of an undercount of the Latino vote. If Republicans are adapting their Southern Strategy to be a Southwestern Strategy--it may have backfired in the West.