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Harry Reid Wins in Nevada: How He Did It

AP Photo/Eric Jamison

The race for Senator in Nevada came down to which group was motivated to vote more for their candidate. The winner is incumbent Harry Reid, who was able to beat back a formidable, Tea Party-backed Republican opponent.

Preliminary results from the CBS News exit poll in Nevada showed that 11% percent of the electorate decided whom to vote for within the last three days or sometime within the last week. A majority of this group went to Reid, the Democratic incumbent and Speaker of the House.

Did the Tea Party Cost GOP the Senate?

Those who made their decisions earlier were divided about voting for Reid or for his Republican opponent Sharron Angle. Angle is the darling of the Tea Party movement with an endorsement from Sarah Palin. She campaigned portraying Reid as out of touch with Nevada voters, and she was able to tap into voter anger, frustration and fears of the lagging economy. Unemployment in Nevada has reached 14 percent -- much worse than the national average -- and the state has one of the highest home foreclosure rates in the country.

Three out of 10 Nevada voters say they're very worried that they or a family member will lose a home because of foreclosure, and 51 percent of this group supported Angle, while 24 percent were somewhat worried and 52 percent of this group support Reid.

Full Nevada Results
Nevada Exit Polls
Full Election Results

Angle angered the Republican business community and moderate Republicans in the state, and many business leaders and the Chamber of Commerce endorsed Reid.

Some of her stands are perceived as strange, like massages for prisoners going through drug detox, linking abortion to breast cancer and eliminating the Depts. of Energy and Education, plus making racist comments. But it seems like the voters are ignoring those statements because of their dislike toward Reid. More voters disapprove of Reid's handling of his job (55%) and they solidly support Angle. Also, 55 percent think the Democratic senator has been in Washington too long and 80% of them are backing Angle.

Some demographic groups that show how they support their candidate:

  • Men are giving Angle a slim lead (48% to Reid's 46%), while women are supporting Reid (53% vs 42% for Angle).
  • White voters make up 72% of the Nevada electorate and they give Angle a 12 point advantage. Reid is counting on the Latinos to come out to vote. They make up 16% of the electorate and more than two-thirds of them are supporting the Democrat. Six percent of the voters are black and a huge 78% are supporting Reid.
  • Young voters (less than 45 years old) support the Democrat, while the older baby boomers are dividing their vote. The senior voters (65+) are backing Angle by nine points (53% to 44%).
  • Voters with no college degree are backing Reid by 10 points. College graduates support Angle, but those with postgraduate degrees are backing Reid by 52%-46%.
  • One of the reasons the election is close is that the political party make-up in the election is 35% Democrat, 33% Republican and 32% independent. The independents are barely supporting Angle by four points (48% vs. 44%).
  • A majority of voters disapprove of President Obama's job performance and they strongly support Angle (79%).
  • A third of voters are angry about the way federal government is working, and they back Angle by 81% vs. 12% for Reid.
  • Almost two-thirds say that the economy is the most important issue facing the country and this group leans toward voting for Reid.
  • More than half of the voters say cutting taxes (16%) and reducing the budget deficit (35%) should be the highest priority for the next Congress and these voters support Angle, while 42% cite spending to create jobs and they strongly support Reid.
  • Nearly two out of five voters say they support the Tea Party movement and 87% of them voted for the Tea Party candidate. Almost the same share of voters (35%) opposed the movement and they voted for Reid (91%). Less than a quarter say they have no opinion of the Tea Party movement and half of them are backing Reid.
  • Finally, 31% say the quality that mattered most to them in selecting a candidate is "can bring needed change." And this group overwhelmingly voted for Angle. This is followed by 29% who mention "understands the needs of people like me' and they support Angle, as well. Less than a quarter mentioned "has the right experience" and they strongly support Reid.

The CBS News exit poll was conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool. Preliminary results are based on 3,796 voters in Nevada interviewed either after exiting the polls across the state or by telephone for early voters. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

Susan H. Pinkus is the former director of the Los Angeles Times Poll and now conducts public opinion research at her firm S. H. Pinkus Research & Associates.

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