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Associated Press
President Barack Obama waves as he walks on stage with first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha at his election night party early Wednesday in Chicago.

A nation divided?

In weak economy, president holds off Romney in costly campaign

Associated Press
Mitt Romney, the former Masachusetts governor, delivers his concession speech before supporters at his election night rally in Boston.

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama successfully reassembled his diverse coalition of minority, women and youth voters to propel himself to a second White House term.

The victory came even as the electorate remains divided like two foreign lands, split between men and women, whites and minorities, rich and poor, young and old, exit polling showed.

The portrait of voters revealed in the national survey shows a politically, demographically, geographically and culturally separated nation. A stark illustration of that gap came among Hispanics, who overwhelmingly backed the president.

Obama held together his base of support because he has done little to anger his supporters, even if they are less enthusiastic than four years ago, said Terry Madonna, a political science professor and director of the Franklin & Marshall College poll in Lancaster, Pa.

"This is a replay," Madonna said. "It's the same demographics, although the percentages are varying a bit."

Republican challenger Mitt Romney, 65, found strong support among senior citizens, whites and men.

Obama, 51, built an 11 percentage-point advantage among female voters. His support of 55 percent of women was down only slightly from four years ago, when it was 56 percent and he won a 13 percentage-point advantage over Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee.

The Democratic president won 39 percent of the vote among whites, down from 43 percent four years ago. In the swing state of Ohio, he did slightly better, winning 42 percent of the white vote. Nationally, white voters represented 72 percent of the electorate, down from 74 percent in 2008.

Obama won 93 percent of the African-American vote, down slightly from 95 percent in 2008. Again, he did better with this group in Ohio, winning 96 percent of blacks there.

Among Hispanics, Obama won a 44-point advantage. Romney secured 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, down from the 2008 Republican share of 31 percent.

Obama's strength among minorities helped him amass big vote margins in large population centers of key swing states.

In Florida, Obama rolled up big margins in the southeastern counties of Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, the biggest concentration of Democratic votes in the state.

In Miami-Dade, which is more than 65 percent Hispanic, Obama's 62 percent was the best showing by any presidential candidate since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

Obama won 59 percent of the vote in Orange County around Orlando, matching his 2008 showing. The Hispanic population in Orange increased to 27 percent in 2010 from 19 percent a decade earlier, fueled by the growth of Puerto Rican Hispanics who traditionally lean Democratic.

"Nationally, even modest white support is no longer necessary for a Democratic victory if there is strong turnout for minorities," William Frey, a senior demographer at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said in an email.

Obama's level of support among whites was the lowest since 1992 for a Democratic presidential candidate, Frey said.

"It seems that some white support for Obama was essential for his crucial wins in Ohio and other industrial states, allowing their small minority populations to put him over the top," he said. "So strategic support of whites, and solid support from minorities seems to be the new Democratic strategy for success."

While Obama exceeded his 2008 vote percentage in just nine of Florida's 67 counties, two of them were populous Miami-Dade, where Obama's vote share rose to 62 percent from 58 percent in 2008, and Broward, where Obama won 67.3 percent compared with 67.1 percent four years ago.

Obama also won 53 percent of the vote in Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa and was the site of this year's Republican National Convention. Hillsborough usually sides with the winner of the Florida vote.

In Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas and Henderson, Obama won more than 56 percent of the vote in an area where non-Hispanic whites are now a plurality of residents. The Hispanic population in Clark rose to 29 percent in 2010, from 22 percent in 2000.

In Ohio, which now has voted for the White House winner in 13 consecutive elections, the president's big margins came in population centers that helped him counter Romney's advantages in the suburbs and rural areas.

Obama had 52 percent of the vote in Hamilton County in and around Cincinnati, compared with 53 percent of votes there four years ago. Hamilton is one of six Ohio counties that backed him in 2008 and also voted to re-elect former President George W. Bush in 2004. Obama had 60 percent of the vote in Franklin County, which includes Columbus and gave him 59.7 percent in 2008. Obama won 69 percent of the vote in Cuyahoga County, matching his 2008 margin in a county that includes Cleveland.

Each candidate won about 9 of 10 votes from his party nationwide, with the independent vote breaking slightly for Romney over Obama, 49 percent to 45 percent.

Helping boost Obama, as it did in 2008, was the youth vote. He won 60 percent of those ages 18 to 24. On the other end of the age spectrum, Romney won 56 percent of the vote from those 65 and older.

Obama won 71 percent of the vote in Boulder County, Colo., which includes the University of Colorado, and 67 percent in Johnson County, Iowa, home to the University of Iowa.

The president carried the suburbs of Philadelphia despite a late Republican push that included a campaign appearance by Romney in Bucks County two days before the election. Obama won Bucks by 1 percentage point while taking 57 percent of the vote in Montgomery and 60 percent in Delaware, two of the other three counties that ring Philadelphia.

In Virginia, the president took 57 percent in Prince William County and 52 percent in Loudoun County. Both areas are fast-growing outer suburbs of Washington that backed Obama in 2008 after voting for Bush four years earlier.

Obama did slightly better with those who have college degrees, winning 50 percent among that group compared to 48 percent for Romney.

The former Massachusetts governor won among those making $100,000 or more a year, getting the support of 54 percent of those voters. Obama won 54 percent of those making less than $100,000.

Romney also won 59 percent of the vote among those who attend religious services weekly. He carried 57 percent of the Protestant vote, while Obama won a larger share of the Catholic vote at 50 percent.

The survey of voters was conducted as they were leaving polling places yesterday, as well as by telephone to measure the preferences of those who voted before the election. The polling was done for the television networks and the Associated Press by Edison Research. Results for the full national sample were subject to a sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points and higher for subgroups.

The economy was at the top of voters' minds nationally, with 6 in 10 saying it's the most important issue facing a nation with an unemployment rate of 7.9 percent in October.

About 4 in 10 said they think the nation's economy is on the mend, although even more said things are getting worse or are bad and stagnating. Just a quarter said they're better off than four years ago.

Voters were less likely to blame Obama for the nation's economic woes than they were to point the finger at Bush.

The exit polling also showed that Romney, a former private equity executive whose wealth is estimated to be as much as $250 million, struggled to connect with people. Obama was picked by 53 percent and Romney by 43 percent as being "more in touch" with people like them.

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