Democrats boost appeal to all groups bar over-65s
EXIT POLLS:Obama did significantly better among white voters than previous Democratic candidates, writes Mary FitzgeraldForeign Affairs Correspondent
BARACK OBAMA'S historic victory in the US presidential election was built on the support he drew from a wide range of demographic groups, including several that previously tended to lean towards the Republican Party.
Exit polls show that the Illinois senator widened his appeal beyond that of any recent Democratic presidential nominee, garnering support from a broad spectrum of voters including majorities of women, independents, political moderates, Hispanics, African-Americans, and voters under 45.
He improved on past Democratic performances among all demographic groups, with the exception of voters over 65.
The Republican nominee, Arizona senator John McCain, won majorities of those groups considered to make up his party's base - white men, older voters, conservatives and evangelical Christians.
According to the exit polls, McCain won a majority of all white voters, both men and women.
Some analysts speculated that McCain's share of the votes of white women was perhaps partly due to the groundbreaking candidacy of his running mate, Alaskan governor Sarah Palin.
Polls showed that McCain and Obama split whites across the US except in the South, where McCain pulled in twice as many white votes as Obama.
Southern whites had favoured George Bush by similar margins in the previous two presidential elections.
Obama, however, performed better overall among white voters than several previous Democratic candidates, including John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000. He drew 54 percent of young white voters, compared with 44 percent who plumped for McCain.
While his support among white women was slightly worse than Al Gore's in 2000, Obama polled a strong 41 percent from white men. No Democrat since Carter had until this week's election drawn more than 38 per cent of the white male vote.
Overall, Obama fared better than any Democratic nominees of the past eight presidential elections among women, African-Americans, young voters, moderates and independents. He drew two-third of the Hispanic vote, a much coveted constituency heavily courted by both candidates, rolling back the significant gains George Bush made among Hispanic voters in 2004.
Just over 95 per cent of African-American voters rowed behind Obama.
The black vote constituted 13 per cent of the electorate, a two percentage point increase in their national turnout.
In line with recent voting trends, black women turned out in higher numbers than black men.
Obama's wide-ranging appeal across the spectrum of race and ethnicity demonstrated that, contrary to previous assumptions, a single candidate can appeal to black voters without alienating whites, and to white voters without losing blacks.
According to one poll, race was a factor for two in 10 voters, but more of those voters favoured Obama, perhaps an indication of the level of excitement prompted by the possibility of electing America's first black president.
The Obama campaign's efforts to mobilise potential supporters who had never voted before clearly paid off. Among first-time voters, one in five was black, almost twice the proportion of blacks among voters overall.
Another one in five was Hispanic. Two-thirds of new voters were under 30. Almost half were Democrats, and a third described themselves as independents.
Obama was the choice of nearly seven in 10 first-time voters of all ages.
Young voters turned out in greater numbers than usual but because other groups did the same, the youth share of the electorate was little changed from 2004, making up just under 20 per cent of the total.
As expected, Obama claimed the youth vote as his own, winning the under-30 demographic by 34 percentage points, a massive improvement on Bill Clinton's 19 point edge when he routed Bob Dole in 1996.
Among the Republican-tilting groups that shifted into the Democratic camp for Obama were mothers and Catholics.
Rural voters split their votes, with a thin majority supporting McCain, while Obama consolidated and built on his party's gains in the once staunchly Republican suburbs.
Obama's support from Jews, Protestants and Catholics was an improvement from John Kerry's totals in 2004.
Voter surveys also revealed an electorate deeply disillusioned with the status quo and therefore more drawn to Obama's message of change.
In one poll, three-quarters of respondents said the US was on the wrong track, more than nine in 10 expressed concern about the state of the economy and seven in 10 said they disapproved of Bush's performance as president.
As expected the economy proved the defining issue of the election.
Of five issues suggested to voters in the survey, six in 10 chose the economy as the most important one facing the country — most of these voters plumped for Obama.
Around one in 10 voters named each of the other four choices - the war in Iraq, terrorism, healthcare and energy policy - and only among those who chose terrorism as the overriding issue did McCain prevail.
McCain's failure to distance himself from the unpopular incumbent - and Obama's success in reinforcing McCain's links with Bush - undoubtedly factored in the election result.
Almost half of all voters said they expected McCain to continue Bush's policies, and nine in 10 of them voted for Obama. Similarly, voters who said they disapproved of Bush tilted overwhelmingly for Obama.
Those who voted for Obama were more enthusiastic about their choice than McCain voters.
Almost six in 10 of Obama voters said they were excited about what he would do as president.
Fewer than three in 10 of McCain voters felt that way about their pick.