WASHINGTON — Rising prices and unemployment were heavy on the minds of voters Tuesday even as a glimmer of optimism peeked through, with 4 in 10 saying the nation’s economy is getting better.
There was wide agreement that the economy still has far to go — three-fourths of voters said it was poor or not so good, according to preliminary results of exit polls. Only a fourth thought they were better off financially than four years ago when President Barack Obama was elected.
The survey of voters as they left polling places showed 6 in 10 ranked the economy the top issue. The majority who don’t yet see economic improvement were roughly divided over whether things were getting even worse or just stuck in place.
Joseph Neat, a stay-at-home father in Hagerstown, Md., said he voted for Republican Mitt Romney because Obama has had enough time to deal with the economic troubles affecting families, especially gasoline prices that he called “insane.”
“We don’t have time for him to make changes. We need the changes now,” Neat said of Obama. “And four years is plenty of time.”
Voters pointed to years of high unemployment and rising prices as the biggest problem for people like them; those two worries far outstripped concerns about the housing market or taxes in the exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks.
About half of voters say the previous president, George W. Bush, shoulders more of the blame for economic problems than Obama.
About 4 in 10 blamed Obama. They don’t include William Mullins of Lansing, Mich.
“Obama had a lot to deal with when he came to office,” Mullins said. “You can’t change everything overnight.”
Only a quarter of voters were feeling enthusiastic about Obama’s administration; almost as many said they’re angry about it.
But voters were more likely to say Obama stands for the middle class or the poor.
Half of voters said they think Romney’s policies generally favor the rich and barely any thought he favors the poor. Only about 1 in 10 said Obama favors the wealthy. The biggest group — 4 in 10 — said Obama’s policies help the middle class, with the poor coming in a close second.
The survey of 15,825 voters was conducted for the AP and the television networks by Edison Research. This includes preliminary results from interviews conducted as voters left a random sample of 350 precincts nationally Tuesday, as well as 4,389 who voted early or absentee and were interviewed by landline or cellular telephone from Oct. 29 through Nov. 4. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.
Confident Obama Congratulates Romney, Shoots Hoops
CHICAGO — Expressing confidence but leaving nothing to chance, President Barack Obama indulged his superstitions by engaging in a traditional Election Day basketball game with friends as the race that will determine his political future was finally in the hands of voters.
Obama played on the hard court — and won — after he gave a final exhortation to his volunteers to get out the vote, voiced optimism about his chances and congratulated rival Mitt Romney on a “spirited campaign.”
“I expect that we’ll have a good night,” he said.
Obama gave the campaign one last push Tuesday morning by visiting a campaign office near his South Side Chicago home.
Thunderous applause from about two dozen volunteers, many with tears streaming down their faces, greeted Obama. Removing his suit coat, he sat down to make some calls to volunteers in neighboring Wisconsin. “Let’s get busy,” he said.
“Hopefully we’ll have a good day,” he said on one call. “Keep working hard all the way through.”
Speaking to reporters afterward, Obama said: “We feel confident we’ve got the votes to win but it’s going to depend ultimately on whether these votes turn out.”
He said he knows Romney’s supporters are “just as engaged, just as enthusiastic” as his own and congratulated the former Massachusetts governor “for a hard-fought race.”
Obama spent the day in his hometown, making his last appeals to voters during a round of satellite interviews with TV stations in swing states rather than a final flurry of campaign rallies.
The president headed into Election Day locked in a close race with Romney, according to national polls. But he appeared to have a slight edge in some key battlegrounds that will decide the contest, including Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin.
There was no traditional Election Day photo of Obama voting Tuesday because he did so in Chicago last week, part of his campaign’s effort to promote early voting. First lady Michelle Obama voted by absentee ballot.
One tradition Obama kept, however, was his Election Day basketball game.
A savvy basketball fan, Obama was joined by former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen, childhood friends Mike Ramos and Marty Nesbitt, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a former captain of Harvard’s basketball team.
Others who played included Obama’s chef Sam Kass, first lady Michelle Obama’s brother Craig Robinson, former Bulls player Jeff Sanders, and Alexi Giannoulias, the former Illinois state treasurer and 2010 Democratic U.S. Senate nominee.
Giannoulias said Obama was player-coach of his team, which included Giannoulias and Pippen. The game had referees and the teams played 12-minute quarters. Duncan and Nesbitt played on the other team.
In 2008, Obama played basketball with aides before winning the kickoff Iowa caucuses. They decided to make the games an Election Day tradition after he lost the next contest, the New Hampshire primary, on a day when they didn’t hit the court.
“We made the mistake of not playing basketball once. I can assure you we will not repeat that,” said Robert Gibbs, a longtime Obama aide who accompanied the president in the campaign’s waning days.
The president’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, were flying to Chicago after school Tuesday with their grandmother. The president’s sister and her family were also joining the Obamas in Chicago. The first family planned to eat dinner together at their Chicago home.
He was expected to speak at his campaign’s election night party at McCormick Place convention center.
Romney Says He “Put it All on the Field”
BOSTON — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wrote a 1,118-word victory speech on Tuesday as he concluded his yearslong quest for the presidency claiming he had no regrets.
“I feel like we put it all on the field. We left nothing in the locker room. We fought to the very end, and I think that’s why we’ll be successful,” Romney told reporters aboard his plane as he flew from Pittsburgh to Boston, where preparations were underway for a big election night event.
The GOP nominee had spent Election Day doing a last-minute round of campaigning in one state he’s showered with attention and another he’s largely ignored. After voting near his Boston-area home, Romney was betting that an eleventh-hour appeal to working-class voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania would help him defeat President Barack Obama.
“This is a big day for big change,” Romney told staffers and volunteers at a Cleveland-area campaign office.
On his campaign plane in between flights, he worked on his speech. He said he hasn’t written a concession speech, though he acknowledged the results might not come out in his favor. “Nothing is certain in politics,” he said.
His running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, followed a similar strategy for courting voters on Election Day. After voting in his Wisconsin hometown, Ryan joined Romney in Ohio before a scheduled solo visit to Richmond, Va.
Asked about the hectic schedule in recent days, Ryan said of Romney: “He’s kind of operating on fumes.”
After visiting the campaign office, the pair stopped for lunch at a Wendy’s, where Romney ordered a quarter-pounder, chili and a Frosty. Ryan ordered a quarter-pounder and a salad.
Both were returning to Boston later in the evening to await the election returns.
Earlier Tuesday, Romney told reporters he was feeling “very good” as he and his wife, Ann, appeared at a polling precinct near his Belmont, Mass., home just before 9 a.m. EST to vote.
Romney spent less than three minutes completing his ballot. Asked who he voted for, he said with a smile: “I think you know.”
Romney’s focus on Ohio is not a surprise. He has spent more time campaigning there over the last year than any other state. And no Republican has won the presidency without carrying the Midwestern battleground.
But Romney has spent very little time in Pennsylvania, which hasn’t supported a Republican presidential contender in nearly a quarter-century. As polls showed the race tightening there, Romney launched a statewide advertising campaign just last week.
Dismissed as desperation by Democrats, the Pennsylvania trip will at the very least send the message that Romney did all he could to deny Obama a second term.
“We can’t let up now. We need to keep going until the final polls close tomorrow night,” Romney political director Rich Beeson wrote supporters Monday. “With an election this important, let’s leave it all on the field.”
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