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Inside Politics

Exit polls: Electorate is sharply divided

'Moral values' help Bush; economic focus aids Kerry

By Greg Botelho

Bush and Kerry
Exit polls indicated a tense political climate, with little common ground between supporters of the two major candidates.
President Updated: 5:33 p.m. ET
Bush 286 EV
Kerry 252 EV
538 EV at stake, 0 undecided
Election Results Main Page
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CNN's Bill Schneider says three major issues were key for voters at the polls today.

Early reports show a record turnout at the polls today in Cleveland, Ohio.

The "Crossfire" team discusses election issues influencing voters.

(CNN) -- An evenly divided electorate split sharply, and in some states decisively, on age, gender, religious, racial and ideological lines, according to national exit polls.

Respondents painted contrasting images of what qualities they desired in a president, as well as what issues they felt were most important.

Sen. John Kerry's backers emphasized jobs, intelligence, empathy and desire for change. Supporters of President Bush, meanwhile, stressed terrorism, faith, clarity and trust.

A roughly equal number of respondents called "moral values" and the economy as the 2004 election's most importance issues. Those who cited the former backed Bush overwhelmingly (79 percent, with 18 percent for Kerry); those who made the latter a priority voted for Kerry by a similar margin (80 percent, with 18 percent for Bush).

Terrorism and the war in Iraq rated as the third and fourth top issues, respectively. While the voting public evenly split on the Iraq war, those who called it a top issue were far more likely to support Kerry. Bush won handily among those who prioritized terrorism.

Exit polls indicated a tense political climate, with little common ground between supporters of the two major candidates.

About two-thirds said Kerry and Bush attacked one another unfairly. While many voters expressed disapproval with the political process, many of the attacks seemed to resonate.

About 55 percent of respondents said Kerry mostly says what "people want to hear," rather than what he believes. On the flip side, the same number said that Bush pays more attention to large corporations than "ordinary Americans."

One-quarter of respondents said they were "angry" with the Bush administration, with only 6 percent of Kerry voters saying they had a favorable opinion of the president. The senator did not rate high among Bush voters either, with 92 percent expressing an unfavorable opinion.

Economic, religious divide

Respondents' views on the economy corresponded significantly with their vote. Bush won in a landslide among the roughly 46 percent who called the current situation "excellent" or "good," while Kerry did similarly well among those who identified it as "not good" or "poor."

There was also a decided income divide: Those earning $50,000 or less resoundingly backed the Massachusetts senator (56 percent to 43 percent), while respondents with a higher annual income were more likely to back the president.

Regular churchgoers, especially in the Midwest and South, disproportionately voted for the president (60 percent to 39 percent), while Kerry nearly made up that margin among those who said they "occasionally" or "never" went to church. Catholic voters split roughly evenly between the two candidates.

The president saw his support slip, compared to 2000, young voters, with those age 18-29 backing Kerry by a roughly 10 percentage point margin.

Eighty-nine percent of African-Americans followed the historic trend and backed the Democratic ticket. Bush did make inroads among Latino voters, garnering 42 percent support (7 percent more than four years ago) to Kerry's 55 percent.

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