The Senior Citizen Sweep

Exit polls showed Obama's unpopularity created a drag on the Democrats in Senate races.
Photograph by Getty Images

The Barack Obama coalition stayed home.

The demographic mix of young, minority and women voters that twice helped elect Obama to the White House never was going to be as robust in a midterm election  Yet the fall-off from the level of support the president enjoyed just two years ago was a major factor in the Democratic loss of the Senate.

Even when compared to the last midterm election in 2010, the American electorate Tuesday was older, exit polls show.

Those 65 and older represented a quarter of the national electorate, up from 21 percent four years earlier. Democrats sought to turn out younger voters, but that didn't happen nationally. The share of those 29 and younger was identical to 2010. The proportion of the electorate represented by Hispanics–8 percent–was identical to 2010.  Turnout among black voters increased by a percentage point to 12 percent this year, and Asian voters increased by a single point as well, to 3 percent.

Obama was also clearly a drag on Democrats, with 55 percent of those voting telling exit pollsters that they either somewhat or strongly disapprove of the president's job performance. In the most closely watched states for Senate control, the exit polls provide the answers behind wins and losses.

North Carolina

In 2008, Kay Hagan won her first term in office by beating Elizabeth Dole by 14 percentage points among women. On Tuesday, she did even better against Thom Tillis, winning the female vote 56 percent to 39 percent, the exit polls show, yet Tillis claimed victory. 

Black voters represented 21 percent of the total electorate, and Hagan won a whopping 95 percent of that vote. White voters accounted for 73 percent of the electorate and Tillis won 61 percent of that vote. 

Tillis held down Hagan's numbers among younger voters. Six years earlier, she won among those 18 to 29 years, 71 percent to  24 percent. On Tuesday, she only won 53 percent of that group.


Michelle Nunn carried the women's vote over David Perdue, 54 percent to 44 percent. She also won 93 percent of the state's black vote, a group that represented 29 percent of the electorate.

But it wasn't enough.  White voters, who accounted for 64 percent of the state's electorate, heavily supported Perdue over Nunn, 73 percent to 25 percent. Perdue was also able to minimize the gender gap that normally favors Democrats. He won 44 percent of the female vote and 60 percent of the male vote.

New Hampshire

In 2008, Jeanne Shaheen won the women's vote by 23 percentage points. She didn't do quite so well against Scott Brown in a race where she won the women's vote, 59 percent to 41 percent. Independent voters, who represented 45 percent of Tuesday's electorate, were almost evenly split, giving Shaheen 50 percent and Brown 49 percent, as Shaheen appeared to narrowly win re-election.


Men narrowly outnumbered women among voters in Kentucky. Likely future Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won the male vote over Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, 61 percent to 36 percent. He also carried the women's vote, narrowly, 49 percent to 48 percent. 

McConnell also won all age groups, with the exception of those 25 to 29 years old.

White voters represented 89 percent of the total vote in Kentucky and McConnell beat Grimes among the group, 59 percent to 38 percent. Grimes carried 90 percent of the black vote, but blacks represented just 8 percent of the electorate.


Republican Tom Cotton's victory over Democratic Senator Mark Pryor was broad and deep. He carried every age group and virtually income group, with the exception of those coming from households with incomes of less than $30,000.

Cotton also had an especially strong showing among white "evangelical/born-again Christians," a group that represented 51 percent of the electorate and one where he received 71 percent of the vote. Pryor won 97 percent of the state's black vote, although the group only accounted for 12 percent of the electorate.


In her victory over Democrat Bruce Braley, Republican Joni Ernst won 56 percent of the male vote and 48 percent of the female vote, enough to keep him from canceling out her advantage with men. She also won a larger share of voters who were 40 and older, while Braley won a larger share of those younger.

Ernst won majorities among those who attended college and those who did not. She also won every income group, with the exception of voters from households making less than $30,000. Obama, who won Iowa in both 2008 and 2012, was a drag on Braley. Sixty percent of voters said they disapprove of the job he's doing, and Ernst won 79 percent of those voters.