Washington , Nov 5: Barack Obama was winning handily among women, blacks and Hispanics, while whites supported John McCain, according to preliminary exit polls.
Obama also was the overwhelming choice of the one in 10 voters who went to the polls for their first time on Tuesday — a racially diverse group of mostly twentysomethings, half of whom call themselves Democrats.
Just over half of white voters overall were backing McCain —a group that had favored President George W. Bush over John Kerry by 17 per centage points in 2004.
McCain, 72, also got support from just over half of senior citizens, coveted for their vigilance in going to the polls.
McCain also drew strength from white, working-class voters, exit polls showed. Whites who have not finished college were giving him heavy support, but short of the 23-point margin by which Bush won their vote in 2004.
Overall, Obama's bid to become the first black U.S. president drew the votes of more than half of women, two-thirds of Hispanic voters and nearly all blacks who went to the polls. A young and dynamic candidate at age 47, Obama was winning the under-30 vote by a 2-1 margin.
Women voters are typically the key to a Democratic presidential victory, and Obama was pulling well over half their votes. He held a narrower edge over McCain among all men, according to the preliminary national survey, which does not show how candidates performed in state-by-state voting for president.
First-time voters were key to Obama's strategy, and they were voting for him by a 3-1 margin. Young voters tend to favor Democrats, but not in such high numbers. Four years ago, Kerry won 53 per cent of their votes.
One in five of the new voters was black, almost twice the proportion of blacks among voters overall. Another one in five of the new voters was Hispanic. About two-thirds of them were under 30 years old.
A third of first-time voters this year said they were political independents; only about one in 5 was a Republican.
Twenty-six-year-old Jennifer Sunderlin, who typically votes Republican, said she did not stick with her usual party this election year.
"Don't tell my Dad, but I voted for Barack Obama," said Sunderlin, of Albany, New York. She said she was turned off by McCain's choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.
She was not alone. Four in 10 voters overall said Palin was an important factor in deciding who to vote for, and this group leaned slightly toward Obama. But nine in 10 Republicans calling Palin's selection important were voting for McCain.
Andrew Greenaway, 18, said he was swayed by all "the buzz" about Obama in his dorm at Cleveland State University. "All my buddies told me to vote for Obama," he said.
About a third of voters said the quality that mattered most was the candidates' ability to bring about change — the mantra of Obama's campaign — while a fifth focused on the candidates' experience, McCain's strong point.
"I don't think Obama knows what he's doing," said Craig Burnett, 55, a Republican in Hagerstown, Maryland. "He's too young and inexperienced."
More than half strongly disapproved of the way Bush has handled the job, and they overwelmingly voted for Obama.
Two-thirds of voters worried about how to pay for health care and at least as many feared terrorists will attack the U.S. again. But the economy weighed heaviest on their minds.
Six in 10 voters picked it as the most important issue facing the U.S., according to preliminary polling. None of the four other issues listed by exit pollsters — energy, Iraq, terrorism and health care — was picked by more than one in 10 people.
Almost everyone agreed the economy's condition is either "poor" or "not good." And more than eight in 10 said they were worried about the economy's direction over the next year.
Half of voters said they are very worried the current economic crisis will harm their families, and another third were somewhat worried about that. One reason: about two-thirds of voters have stock market investments, such as retirement funds.
Yet there was room for optimism —nearly half predict the economy will get better over the next year.
In a historic year, when Obama could become the first black president, nine out of 10 voters said the race of the candidates was not important to their votes. Almost as many said age was not important, a nod to the 72-year-old McCain, who could become the oldest first-term president.
The results were from exit polling by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for The Associated Press and television networks conducted in 300 precincts nationally. The preliminary data was based on 10,747 voters, including telephone polling of 2,407 people who voted early, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 1 per centage point for the entire sample, smaller for subgroups.