Exit poll data is providing some significant insights into Tuesday's election, in which President Barack Obama won a second term - and the role that voters 50 and older, who amount to nearly half of the electorate, played in the outcome.
An AARP analysis of the exit poll data shows that while the 50+ vote went to GOP candidate Mitt Romney by 53-46 percent, older voters played an important role in Obama's decisive near-sweep of battleground states.
According to Associated Press results on Wednesday afternoon, Obama racked up at least 303 electoral votes; the outcome in Florida, which has 29 electoral votes, remains unclear (Obama appears to have a lead of fewer than 50,000 in the state). The popular vote was much closer, with the president winning slightly more than 51 percent, compared with just under 49 percent for GOP candidate Mitt Romney. About 2.75 million votes separate Obama and Romney, out of 117.89 million cast. It was a slight dropoff for Obama, who in 2008 won 365 electoral votes and 52.9 percent of the popular vote.
According to an AARP analysis, voters age 50 and older made up 44 percent of the electorate this year, a 1 percent increase from four years ago. Voters age 50 to 64 accounted for 28 percent of this year's turnout; those 65 and older accounted for 16 percent.
Obama didn't do as well election night with 50+ voters, winning about 2 percent less of that age group than he did in 2008. While Obama lost older voters by only two percentage points to John McCain in 2008, he lost the group to Romney by a seven-point margin. Voters age 50-64 went for Romney by a 52-47 margin, while Romney trounced the president in the 65-and-older demographic, 56-44.
Even so, there are so many older Americans that they accounted for a bigger portion of Obama's support than any other age demographic, casting nearly 4o percent of his vote total. The 24 million votes for Obama by 50+ voters nearly doubled what he got from 18- to 29-year-olds, the group in which Obama is overwhelmingly popular.
Even more important, Obama actually won the 50+ vote in three crucial states.
- Iowa: In the bellwether midwestern state, older voters amount to 54 percent of the electorate. Obama won those voters by 53-46 over Romney, the mirror opposite of how he performed with older voters nationwide. In all, 50+ voters provided Obama with half of his six-point victory margin in Iowa.
- Wisconsin: In this state, older voters amount to 53 percent of the electorate. Obama again prevailed 51-48, achieving the same vote percentage that he got from all age groups nationwide. Older voters contributed one percentage point to Obama's seven-point victory in the state.
- New Hampshire: Romney's hopes of claiming the state next door to his home state of Massachusetts were extinguished by older voters, who make up 46 percent of New Hampshire's electorate. They broke for Obama by 52-48 and contributed two points to Obama's five-point margin.
Why older voters flocked so strongly to Obama in those three crucial states is a harder question to answer. He didn't do as well with their counterparts in Pennsylvania and Ohio, where Romney won the 50+ vote by eight and six points, respectively.
-Patrick J. Kiger