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Inside Politics

Small inroads make difference for Bush

Population shifts, conservative support considered key

By Greg Botelho

President Bush smiles as he watches early poll results Tuesday.
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(CNN) -- President Bush convincingly won the popular vote Tuesday thanks to strong backing from his party's conservative base, as well as increased support from Latino, urban, Jewish, Catholic and female voters, according to exit polls.

On Election Day, Bush amassed 3.5 million more votes than Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry. But the electoral vote tally -- and the final verdict -- remained undecided until Kerry phoned Bush late Wednesday morning to concede the White House race. (Electorate is sharply divided)

The president benefited from geographic shifts of voters that boosted the electoral vote numbers in several states that voted Republican.

Kerry gained four electoral votes in New Hampshire, which Bush won in 2000, but stands to lose four in New Mexico, which the president leads but was still uncalled as of Thursday afternoon. Democratic candidate Al Gore won there in 2000. Kerry fell short of Gore's 267 electoral votes overall.

Republicans are projected by CNN to win again in Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Nevada and Florida, states that gained in population and nine electoral votes since the election four years ago.

Many of Bush's popular vote advances this year were a matter of degree. In several cases, he did not necessarily conclusively win a particular subset of voters, but performed better among that group compared to 2000.

The president, for example, garnered 48 percent of the female vote, up 5 percent from 2000. While Bush lost the Latino vote -- winning 44 percent to Kerry's 53 percent (other candidates split the remainder) -- he gained 9 points from four years ago, which proved significant in states like Florida and New Mexico with large Hispanic populations.

The president captured 45 percent of the urban vote, up 10 points from 2000. Reports of high turnout in several traditionally Democratic cities may have had less impact on the final result than some pundits anticipated.

The GOP ticket did 5 points better among Catholics, which narrowly sided in 2000 with Gore. In 2004, Bush won this vote over Kerry, himself a Catholic.

The president improved 6 points among Jewish voters, though he still lost this group decisively to the Massachusetts senator, 74 percent to 25 percent.

Bush did particularly well among regular churchgoers, outpacing Kerry by 22 points among exit poll respondents who attended services at least once a week.

More exit poll respondents -- about 22 percent -- called "moral values" the election's most important issue than cited the economy, terrorism or Iraq. Those expressing this sentiment backed the president overwhelmingly, 80 percent to Kerry's 18 percent. Bush did similarly well among the 19 percent who identified terrorism as their top issue.

Kerry won overwhelmingly among the 20 percent who pointed to the economy and jobs as the most important issue -- taking this group 80 percent to the president's 18 percent. The 15 percent who named the Iraq war as the race's top issue backed the senator by a 3-1 margin.

The president's supporters were overwhelmingly positive about the current situation in the economy and Iraq. Those with more pessimistic views on these topics resoundingly said they voted for Kerry.

A hefty majority, 54 percent to 41 percent, said the president pays more attention to large corporations than to "ordinary Americans." About 56 percent of respondents said Kerry mostly says what "people want to hear," rather than what he believes.

Following his win, Bush faces several obstacles, according to the exit poll data.

While a slim majority, 53 percent, approved the president's job performance, a similar figure -- 49 percent -- said that they were "angry" or "dissatisfied" with the Bush administration.

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