Exit polls: Barack Obama bets and wins
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It turned out that Americans who cast ballots looked collectively much more like what Obama had envisioned – a diverse tapestry that reflected a changing America – than the whiter, older electorate Romney had banked on.
Younger voters and minorities came to the polls at levels not far off from the historic coalition Obama assembled in 2008. The reality caught off-guard Republicans who had banked on a more monolithic voting body sending Romney to the White House – and who had based their polling on that assumption.
The outcome revealed a stark problem for Republicans: If they don't broaden their tent, they won't move forward.
And it foreshadowed changes over the next generation that could put long-held Republican states onto the political battleground maps of the future.
"Clearly, when you look at African-American and Latino voters, they went overwhelmingly for the president,'' said John Stineman, a Republican strategist from Iowa. "And that's certainly a gap that's going to require a lot of attention from Republicans.''
In exit polling Tuesday, voters mirrored the voting public's makeup of four years ago, when Obama shattered minority voting barriers and drove young voters to the polls unlike any candidate in generations.
White voters made up 72 percent of the electorate – less than four years ago – while black voters remained at 13 percent and Hispanics increased from 9 percent to 10 percent.
That flew in the face of Republican assumptions that the fierce economic headwinds of the past three years and the passing of the novelty of the first African-American president would trim Obama's support from black voters, perhaps enough to make the difference in a close election.
However, Obama carried Virginia, the heart of the old South, in part by having increased his record support from black voters there in 2008, which reached 18 percent, to more than 20 percent, according to Obama campaign internal tracking polls.