Republican success at the midterm ballot box came with some dramatic changes in the composition of the electorate from four years ago, when the party lost its majorities on Capitol Hill.
The partisan makeup of the electorate shifted only slightly from 2006. Democrats, who made up 38 percent of the voters that year, comprised 36 percent yesterday, according to the National Election Pool exit poll run by the five major TV networks and the Associated Press. At the same time, the percentage of independents in the electorate rose 2 percentage points, from 26 percent to 28 percent. The share of Republicans remained the same as it was four years ago: 36 percent.
But on the ideological scale, the 2010 electorate heaved to the right: 41 percent of the voters who went to the polls identified themselves as conservative -- a 9-point gain from 2006. The share of liberals remained the same at 20 percent. But the proportion of self-identified moderates fell from 47 percent to 39 percent.
The percentage of white evangelical and born-again Christians who voted this year barely rose over the 2006 level. They made up 25 percent of the voters yesterday, compared to 24 percent four years ago. However, their support for Republican congressional candidates spiked to 77 percent, up 7 points from 2006.
Voters from union households fell sharply from four years ago, when they made up 23 percent of the electorate. On Tuesday, their share of the midterm votes was only 17 percent. Moreover, their affinity for Democratic congressional candidates fell slightly. Four years ago, they backed Democrats over Republicans by 64 percent to 34 percent. Yesterday, 60 percent of union household members backed a Democratic congressional candidate and 37 percent supported a Republican.