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Exit polls: Bush, Iraq key to outcome

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(CNN) -- After a sweeping Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives in Tuesday's midterm election, and with control of the Senate hanging in the balance, exit polls indicated views of President Bush and the war in Iraq were key to the outcome.(Watch poll results back up dissatisfaction -- 1:43 Video)

According to CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider, voters were angry and wanted change -- and the old adage that all politics is local did not apply this year.

Schneider said as he interviewed voters across the country, "a lot of voters said, 'I'm going to vote Democratic.' They didn't even know the name of the Democrat, but they said, 'I'm going to vote Democratic because I don't like Bush, I don't like the war, I want to make a statement'." (Watch Bill Schneider discuss the national exit polls -- 2:19 Video)

According to exit polls, 57 percent of all voters disapprove of the war in Iraq and 58 percent disapprove of Bush's job performance.

Most voters cast their ballots on national rather than local issues, with 60 percent saying national issues mattered most to their vote, while 34 percent said local issues mattered most.

Readers who e-mailed echoed some of those themes.

"I used to side with the Republicans until a few years ago," wrote Todd Richads of Leonardtown, Maryland. "I just can't get behind their way of thinking any more. I decided to vote all Democrats in order to teach my former party a lesson to come back to reality." (Full story)

Independents, who make up 26 percent of the national electorate, were the swing constituency. They voted for Democrats by a 59 percent to 37 percent margin.

"We haven't seen that big a vote for one party among independents since exit polling began about 30 years ago," said Schneider.

"[Swing voters] were supposed to be irrelevant, and in previous elections, for about the last 10 years, the swing voters have divided evenly, so who cares," Schneider said. "This year they really had their revenge."

Late-deciding voters went decisively for Democrats. Nationwide, 19 percent of all voters indicated that they made up their minds in the last three days of the campaign. Those voters went Democratic, 56 percent to 41 percent. Among the 10 percent of voters who decided on Election Day itself, 60 percent voted Democratic and 37 percent voted Republican. (Watch a snapshot of voting day -- 2:00 Video)

Voters overwhelmingly turned thumbs down on how Congress has performed its job. Only 36 percent approved, while 61 percent disapproved. Of those who disapproved, 71 percent voted for the Democratic House candidate. Of those who approved, 71 percent voted for the Republican House candidate.

For the most part, Republicans held their religious base. White evangelical-born again voters went Republican by 69 percent to 29 percent. In 2004, the same group voted Republican in House contests by a slightly higher margin, 73 percent to 26 percent.

In Montana, one of two states whose senatorial election was still too close to call on Wednesday morning, exit polls showed that Republican incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns suffered serious political damage because of his association with disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Forty percent of Montana voters said the ethics/corruption issue was "extremely important" to them.

Rhode Island votes out popular, moderate GOP leader

Schneider cited Rhode Island as proof of how badly voters wanted change.

"[Incumbent Republican Senator] Lincoln Chafee, who had a 63 percent job approval in Rhode Island -- they liked him, but they didn't vote for him. They didn't vote for him because he's a Republican and even though he's anti-war, he didn't even vote to re-elect President Bush, the fact is he would vote to make the Republicans the majority party in the Senate," Schneider said.

Exit polls showed that 63 percent of Rhode Island voters wanted Democrats to control the Senate, and 78 percent of those voters supported Chafee's opponent, Sheldon Whitehouse. Whitehouse won the seat with 53 percent of the vote.

In another state with a hard-fought Senate race, 46 percent of Missouri voters said their most important issue was the economy. Among that group, 61 percent voted for Democrat Claire McCaskill, who defeated Republican incumbent Jim Talent.

In Tennessee, site of another closely watched Senate race, voters were more supportive of President Bush and the war in Iraq than most Americans.

Tennessee voters were almost evenly split on the war, with 49 percent approving and 48 percent disapproving. On Bush's job performance, 50 percent of Tennessee voters disapproved and 48 percent approved.

In the race there for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Bill Frist, Republican Bob Corker defeated Democrat Harold Ford Jr. by 51 percent to 48 percent.

Exit poll interviewers, working on behalf of The Associated Press, CNN and four other networks, were stationed at about 1,000 precincts around the country Tuesday, asking voters to describe themselves and their opinions on important issues.

Voters cast their ballots at a polling place Tuesday in Alexandria, Virginia.

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