Exit Polls Offer Some Early Clues

Andy Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, talks about the exit polls for the presidential election. The latest ones show that voters are primarily concerned with the economy and the direction of the country's government.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block. Some polls have already closed in the eastern United States, with hours more of voting ahead across the country. But the exit polls are starting to roll in. Poll takers have been asking voters about their decisions, whom they voted for and why. And we're starting to see a few patterns about the makeup of the voters and what's on their minds. I'm joined now by Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, who's been going through these exit poll data. And Andy, first of all, let's talk about who is voting. What do you see that jumps out at you?

Mr. ANDREW KOHUT (President, Pew Research Center): Well, the difference between - here are the notable differences with '04. We have more African-Americans voting. Eleven percent of the '04 electorate was African-American. Thirteen percent of this exit poll - and I want to emphasize, this is an early exit poll. The numbers are a little bit loosey goosey, but they give us some good indications. That's a 20 percent jump in African-American voting. Now, we don't see the big...

BLOCK: From 11 percent to 13 percent?

Mr. KOHUT: From 13, it's about a 20 percent increase. We don't see much difference in the way of young voters: 17 percent under 30, 17 percent four years ago. But the young people had made the jump between 2000 and 2004. What we do see in this early exit poll is fewer older voters: only 17 percent, 60 and older. It had been 24 percent four years ago.

The biggest difference, Melissa, has to do with partisanship. And this is indicative of what the polls have been showing all year. The percentage of Republicans last time was 37 percent in '04. It's only 32 percent. Democrats jump from 37 to 40. And Independents jump from 26 to 28. There are fewer Republicans. Now, again, this is an early poll. We could be catching some more Republicans later in the game. But there's some strong indications that Republicans - there are fewer people who think of themselves as Republicans.

BLOCK: What about folks who said - what are folks saying about when they made up their minds in this race?

Mr. KOHUT: Well, that's a funny question these days. We found only six percent saying that they decided in the last three days; nine percent four years ago. But we have to keep in mind that 30 percent of the sample, we estimate, or 30 percent of the electorate, had voted prior to today. So when you decided doesn't have the same sort of reference point. Four years ago, only 20 percent, roughly, had said, voted early. And in '00, it was only 14 percent. So, this trend to early voting is very, very striking, and it's shaping the way people not only do things, but the impact of the campaign on them.

BLOCK: What about people who say they are voting in this election for the first time?

Mr. KOHUT: Well, 10 percent said they're first-time voters. We had 11 percent four years ago.

BLOCK: It's about the same.

Mr. KOHUT: Not very different, it's about the same. The other things that's the same - even though we have fewer Republicans, we have about the same number of white evangelical Protestants, 23 percent, as we had four years ago. Obviously, that's a group - not obviously, but that's a group that leans Republican. So, that's a positive thing for the Republicans.

BLOCK: And we should say, again, as you've repeated several times already, this is an early wave of polling, and things could change as more of this becomes known. Let's talk about one thing that does jump out right away, Andy, and that's that the economy clearly is the overwhelming issue on most voters' minds.

Mr. KOHUT: Sixty-two percent said that it was the issue that they will be thinking about when they cast a ballot. It was only 18 percent four years ago. Behind that broad 62 percent, there are even more troubling numbers. Forty-seven percent of the voters questioned by the exit pollsters said that they're very worried that the financial crisis will come home and affect their family, and another 34 percent said somewhat worried. And people are very bearish. Eighty-six percent worried about what the national economy will be like next year.

BLOCK: OK, Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, talking about the first batch of exit polls in today's vote. Andy, thanks so much.

Mr. KOHUT: You're welcome, Melissa.

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