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WASHINGTON — The basic math for Tuesday's Republican election triumph was simple: Most people think the economy is in awful shape, and those feeling that way voted solidly for the GOP.
Underlying that, though, was a remarkable roll call of groups who powered the Republican victory. Conservative tea party supporters supplied about 2 of every 3 GOP votes while women, independents, suburbanites and white Catholics fled toward Republican House candidates, according to a national exit poll of voters.
With Democrats running the White House and Congress at a time of near 10 percent unemployment and rampant home foreclosures, the majority party was the target of widespread sourness over the country's No. 1 issue. Nearly 9 in 10 called the economy bad and expressed worry over the coming year, and 4 in 10 said their personal finances had grown worse under President Barack Obama. All of those people leaned strongly Republican.
"I'm worried about it stagnating and not getting better," Stephen Skavlem, 45, a Cincinnati Republican, said of the economy. "I blame the Democrats in Washington. I feel they got the keys to the castle, they couldn't reach a consensus and didn't get a lot done."
Frustration was also aimed at Obama. Just two years after he won the White House, over half — about 54 percent — expressed disapproval of the job he's doing and similar numbers said his policies will harm the country. Illustrating the impact this had Tuesday, almost 4 in 10 considered their House vote an expression of opposition to Obama while only a quarter said their vote signaled support for the president.
"I think he's doing fine but the perception isn't the same," said Steve Mount, 48, a construction company executive in New York City. "I think everybody's too impatient, and it was going to take a long time to turn the economy around and I think it is turning around."
There were other manifestations of the public's dour mood:
—Just over half gave negative marks to both the Republican and Democratic parties, and about three-quarters gave Congress poor grades.
—About three-quarters expressed dissatisfaction with how the federal government works, and they voted heavily Republican. Their ranks included 1 in 4 who said they are angry.
—A majority said the government should more often leave people and businesses alone — another group that tilted Republican.
"We've got a big job ahead of us," said House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio, the speaker-in-waiting.
The exit poll also pointed to problems for Obama as he considers a 2012 re-election bid. In a sign of his diminished luster, hardly any first-time voters went to the polls Tuesday despite campaign-trail pleas — a contrast to 2008, when about 1 in 10 voters were new and strongly backed Obama.
Independents supported him solidly two years ago but on Tuesday disapproved of his job performance by almost 3-2. They were also pivotal for Republican candidates, giving them about 55 percent of their votes after leaning solidly Democratic in Obama's 2008 presidential race and the 2006 midterms that saw Democrats win congressional control.
Tea party supporters accounted for about 4 in 10 voters Tuesday, and they voted overwhelmingly Republican. Overall, just over 1 in 5 voters considered their House vote an expression of support for the tea party, while nearly as many called their vote a message of opposition to the group. Just over half said the tea party had no effect on their ballot.
Women were divided about evenly between Democrats and Republicans. That split was a major blow to Democrats, who've consistently won the female vote over the past two decades. Men gave about 55 percent of their vote to the GOP Tuesday — a change from 2008 and 2006, when they were more evenly sliced, but similar to their margin in the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress.
Suburban voters, another recent swing group, leaned Republican by about 11 percentage points. Joining them were nearly 6 in 10 white Catholics, a closely contested group in 2006 and 2008 that went Republican in 1994.
Republicans carried voters age 40 and up, split 30-somethings and lost those who are younger. But the most dramatic contrasts were at opposite ends of the age spectrum.
Nearly 6 in 10 voters age 65 and up backed Republicans, a stronger margin than they gave GOP presidential candidate John McCain in 2008. About the same portion of those under 30 voted Democratic on Tuesday — more modest support than they gave Obama two years ago.
Also helping Republicans: Those over age 65 outnumbered the youngest group by about 2-1 on Tuesday. In 2008 the two groups' numbers were more even.
Asked to choose among three issues, about 4 in 10 want Congress to focus on reducing the federal deficit while nearly as many prefer spending to create jobs. Tax cuts finished last.
Overall, about 4 in 10 want to continue the tax cuts approved under President George W. Bush, including reductions for people earning at least $250,000 annually. About an equal number want to let the cuts expire for the wealthiest earners, while some want to let them expire for everyone. Close to half want to repeal the health care overhaul Obama enacted this year, while about the same number want to expand it even further or leave it in place.
The results are from a survey that Edison Research conducted for The Associated Press and television networks with 18,132 voters nationwide. This included interviews with 16,531 voters Tuesday in a random sample of 268 precincts nationally. In addition, landline and cellular telephone interviews were conducted Oct. 22 to 31 with 1,601 people who voted early or absentee. There is a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 1 percentage point for the entire sample, higher for subgroups.
Associated Press Polling Director Trevor Tompson, Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta, News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and AP writers Deepti Hajela in New York and Lisa Cornwell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.