WASHINGTON -- The Iraq war and congressional scandals hurt Republican candidates in the midterm elections, as the GOP lost the advantage on their central issue of terrorism, national exit polls found.
Three-fourths of voters surveyed said corruption and scandal were important to their votes, and they were more likely to vote for Democratic candidates for the House. Iraq was important for two-thirds, and they also leaned toward supporting Democrats.
Voters who said terrorism was an important issue split their support between the two parties, depriving the GOP of the issue that was key to its success in the last two elections.
President Bush and Republican congressional candidates frequently cited the fight against terrorism in the midterm campaign, trying to overcome public anger about the war in Iraq. They argued that Iraq was central to the terror fight.
More than seven in 10 questioned after casting ballots yesterday said terrorism was important in their vote, and they divided their vote. In the 2004 presidential election, Bush had almost a 20-point advantage over Democrat John Kerry on handling terrorism. Republicans held a big advantage on that issue for several years after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
With many voters angry at Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress, Democrats were winning the vote among several traditional swing groups -- independents, moderates, the middle class, and suburban women, according to a national exit poll of 11,798 voters conducted for the Associated Press and TV networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of 1 percentage point, higher for subgroups.
A dozen years after Republicans won the support of middle-class voters, that group came home to Democrats. The middle-class leaned heavily toward the GOP in the last two elections.
Among white voters, Democrats and Republicans split the vote for the House -- four years after the GOP dominated the white vote. And three-fourths of Hispanics backed Democrats -- a step backward for the Republicans after they wooed Hispanics during the last few years.
For some voters, it was important to have a balance of power in Washington.
Norman Moore, 70, a retired editor from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, decided to vote for Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. about two weeks ago. "I do think Democratic control of Congress would put the brakes on this administration," he said.
Those most concerned about scandals and corruption -- about four in 10 of all voters -- were far more likely to vote Democratic.
Most white evangelicals said corruption was very important in their vote and almost a third of them voted Democratic.
Four in 10 said they were voting to oppose Bush, almost twice the number who voted to back him.
Congress' job approval was a little worse than the president's. But GOP congressional leaders were less likely to be the target of voters' anger -- about a fifth of voters were mad at them, compared with nearly a third who were angry with Bush.