MIAMI - President Barack Obama drew heavy support from black, Hispanic and younger voters in Florida's close presidential contest, while Republican challenger Mitt Romney led among both white and older voters, according to preliminary results of exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks.
Obama also had a slight edge among female voters, and Romney had a small advantage among male voters.
The president held on to a slim lead early Wednesday over Romney in the hard-fought swing state of Florida, according to unofficial returns.
Exit polls show Obama was favored by more than 9 of 10 black voters and 3 of 5 Hispanic voters in Florida. The president also was the choice of two-thirds of voters under age 30.
Romney garnered the support of more than 3 of 5 white voters and almost the same percentage of voters over age 65.
A majority of voters who described themselves as moderate preferred Obama, according to exit polls. But the contest for Florida's independent voters was too close to call for either candidate; four years ago, independent voters decisively favored Obama.
Obama was the favorite for voters without a college degree, and also for Floridians with an annual family income under $50,000.
Romney was the overwhelmingly choice of white Protestants and white Catholics, but Obama earned strong support from Florida's Jewish community.
Voters who picked having a vision as a top quality in a candidate leaned toward Romney, but voters who most wanted a candidate who cares about them overwhelmingly supported Obama.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson enjoyed support across all age groups in winning a third term to the US. Senate. The Democrat also won black and Hispanic voters by wide margins. Republican challenger Connie Mack IV had a slight advantage with white voters.
Florida voters picked the economy as the top issue facing the nation.
Nearly two-thirds of Florida voters picked the slowly-recovering economy as the most pressing issue on their minds, as they did four years ago. Health care, the deficit and foreign policy lagged far behind in voters' minds.
When it came to the economy, Florida voters said rising prices were affecting them the most. Not far behind was unemployment. Both were the picks of more than a third of voters in a state with an 8.7 percent unemployment rate.
Stacie Jemison, a 32-year nurse in Pensacola, said she worries about opportunities for the middle class.
"I feel like middle-class people are getting left behind," said Jemison, who voted for Obama on Tuesday.
Ramiro Areces, a 55-year-old Miami attorney, said the slowdown in bank lending was his biggest worry about the economy. He voted for Romney on Tuesday.
"Banks are just not lending money anymore," said Areces, who also owns a tuxedo business. "Five years ago, banks had a lot of leeway to lend to small businesses and got out of control. Now they've gone the other way and I think that is affecting the economy."
Slightly more than half of Florida voters believe former President George W. Bush is to blame for the nation's economic problems. Slightly more than 2 out of 5 voters blame Obama for the nation's economic woes.
"You can't fix a country in four years," said Carlos Padilla Quintero, a 60-year-old real estate agent in Miami who supported Obama.
Half of Florida voters interviewed said they believe Obama's health care overhaul should be repealed. Slightly more than half of voters also support an amendment to the state constitution that encourages state leaders to resist the implementation of Obama's health care overhaul. Support for the amendment reached across all age groups except senior citizens.
Florida voters made up their minds early. More than two-thirds of voters said they had made up their minds before September.
The survey of Florida voters was conducted for the AP and the television networks by Edison Research. This includes results from interviews conducted as voters left a random sample of 50 precincts statewide Tuesday, as well as 811 who voted early or absentee and were interviewed by landline or cellular telephone from Oct. 25 through Nov. 2. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.
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