KANSAS CITY — Missouri voters are worried about the economy, according to results from Associated Press exit polls on Tuesday.
About three-fifths of voters said that the economy was the most important issue facing the country — a percentage virtually identical to the national trend. Meanwhile, nine in 10 Missourians labeled the economy as not good or poor.
"I have two sons who work in construction and things just aren't going that good," said Rhonda Northway, 64, a retired bank accountant in Jefferson City.
Political scientists said the focus on the economy wasn't surprising given the downturn of the stock market, the housing and mortgage crisis and factors that are hurting Missourians.
"The financial crisis is huge, just huge," Saint Louis University's Ken Warren said.
The exit poll showed how much the state's mood has changed since 2004. When President George W. Bush carried Missouri four years ago, slightly more than half of voters said the economy was good and more than three-quarters of those voters favored Bush.
This time, about seven in 10 Missouri voters said they disapprove of Bush's job performance. Four years ago, slightly more than half of voters here approved of Bush's performance.
Despite the presence of Democrat Barack Obama, the first black nominee for a major party, about three-quarters of Missouri voters said race was not a factor in their vote for president. For voters who said race was a factor and those who said it was not, the race was evenly split.
Obama had his best showing among the youngest voters, ages 18 to 29. McCain did best among the oldest — voters 65 and older. Obama won easily among black voters, but McCain had the edge among the four-fifths of the state's voters who are white.
Obama made gains in the suburbs, with a slight advantage over McCain in suburban St. Louis and in the Kansas City area. McCain had a decided advantage in outstate Missouri.
About one-tenth of those polled were first-time voters.
In the race for governor, exit polls showed that Democrat Jay Nixon beat Republican Kenny Hulshof in each age group, among both whites and blacks and across geographical regions.
Nixon won as expected in the urban areas, carried two-thirds of the suburban St. Louis vote and broke even in normally Republican rural areas of the state.
George Connor, a political scientist at Missouri State University, said Hulshof faced an uphill battle for several reasons — the bad economy that some blame on the Republican president, the fact that he entered the race relatively late after incumbent Gov. Matt Blunt dropped out in January, even the tough primary campaign against Treasurer Sarah Steelman.
But mostly, Connor said, Nixon was better known after 16 years as attorney general.
"Congressman Hulshof had very little name recognition outside of Columbia," Connor said. "Nixon had a huge advantage in name recognition, and people like that he's responsible for the no-call list. Even some people voting for McCain were going to vote for Nixon."
The exit poll of 2,739 Missouri voters was conducted for AP by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International in a random sample of 50 precincts statewide. Results were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, higher for subgroups.