WASHINGTON — Voters who feel the economic outlook brightening after years of misery and believe Barack Obama is more in touch with people like themselves propelled the president to a second term. Mitt Romney suffered from being labeled a champion of the wealthy instead of the common man.
Americans interviewed as they left their polling places Tuesday were in wide agreement that the economy is still in sorry shape. But they were less likely to blame Obama than to point the finger at his predecessor, George W. Bush, according to preliminary results of the national exit poll.
Their biggest worries: chronic unemployment, hovering just under 8 percent, and rising prices.
Still, 4 in 10 said the battered economy is starting to do better now. And Obama won 88 percent of their votes, according to the exit poll conducted for the Associated Press and television networks.
"Obama had a lot to deal with when he came to office," said Lansing, Mich., voter William Mullins. "You can't change everything overnight."
The 3 in 10 who feel the economy is getting worse voted just as overwhelmingly for Romney.
But the Obama campaign's portrayal of the multimillionaire businessman as bent on helping his wealthy peers was too much to overcome: 54 percent said Romney would favor the rich and only 34 percent thought his policies would do more for middle-class America. Almost no one thought Romney would be good for the poor.
"I don't think Romney understands people who are down and out," said Cari Herling, an insurance analyst from Sun Prairie, Wis.
In contrast, 75 percent of voters said Obama's policies favored the middle class or the poor.
Romney's central message — that Obama had failed after four years of trying to fix things — didn't sink in with enough Americans to carry the day. Voters were evenly divided over which of the two men would better handle the economy going forward.
Overall, 53 percent had a favorable opinion of Obama, while only 46 percent felt that way about Romney.
And a majority — 54 percent — felt Obama was more in touch with people like them than Romney was.
Working-class whites, a group both candidates pursued in battleground states including autoworker-heavy Ohio, were more pessimistic about the economy than other voters, and also more likely to blame Obama. That helped Romney build a bigger lead among this group than Republican John McCain garnered in 2008.
In a much tighter race than the one that swept Obama into the White House, he won by hanging onto his key demographics of women, young people, blacks and Hispanics.
Romney won among men, whites and those with family incomes of $50,000 or more. He did a little better among these critical groups than McCain had and also echoed McCain's lead among seniors.
Only a fourth of voters thought they were better off financially than four years ago when Obama was elected in the midst of the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. Voters were most likely to say their families were doing about the same — 4 in 10 thought so — but apparently that was good enough. Obama led among that group.