Updated: Wednesday, 07 Nov 2012, 12:29 AM EST
Published : Tuesday, 06 Nov 2012, 8:39 PM EST
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP/WDTN) - President Barack Obama's decision to bail out the auto industry and revitalize two of Ohio's biggest employers drove him to victory in the crucial swing state Tuesday.
Obama's solid backing from blue collar workers and unions were enough to help overcome less backing from independent voters, according to preliminary exit poll results for The Associated Press and television networks.
Most of Ohio's voters were in favor of coming to the aid of General Motors and Chrysler and three-fourths threw their support behind the president.
Voters in union households and Ohioans who had not gone beyond high school were solidly behind Obama. Those who continued their education beyond high school split their vote evenly between Republican Mitt Romney and the president.
Obama won Ohio despite less support from independent voters who swung toward Romney. His popularity also dipped slightly among white working-class voters and those nearing retirement age from four years ago, but it was not enough to cost him.
Young voters in Ohio delivered again for the president, backing him by close to a 2-to-1 margin. It was similar to what happened four years ago.
Democrats had been worried that the state's young people might not turn out as strongly this time and put a bigger effort into targeting college students. Obama visited nearly all of Ohio's biggest universities this fall. His campaign registered thousands of students and drove them to early voting sites in charter buses and vans.
But they showed up in comparable numbers.
Union voters who normally make up a bigger chunk of the presidential electorate in Ohio than in other swing states favored Obama by a three-out-of-five margin.
Ohio has been hit hard by job losses, but its unemployment rate is better than the national average, boosted by a rebounding auto industry and growth in manufacturing.
Most Ohio voters said the economy was the top issue in this year's election, but they were evenly split when it comes to whether Obama or Romney would better handle the economy.
Ohioans were no more optimistic about the economy than the rest of the nation despite its better jobless numbers, according to the exit poll results. But the state's voters were slightly more likely to blame former President George W. Bush than Obama for the economic troubles, mirroring the mood of the nation's voters.
Calvin Sutton, a retiree from the Columbus suburb of Westerville, said Obama deserves credit for holding the nation together during a tough time. "I haven't witnessed a depression, but I've witnessed many downturns in my 74 years. And I think that was the worst economic time that I have ever remembered," he said.
Voters said rising prices and unemployment were the biggest economic problems facing them.
"I still think it's stagnant. I think it hurts household values, it hurts education, it hurts everybody more when you have people not working," said Christine McCauley, 46, a stay-at-home mom from Berea, a Cleveland suburb. She's a Democrat but went with Romney.
About a quarter of the state's voters thought the nation's economy was getting better, with Obama scoring high among them. Slightly more thought it was getting worse off, and they were voting heavily for Romney.
Worries about the economy were even worse in 2008 when Obama rode that discontent to the White House. This time, voters who said their own family's finances were better or had not changed in the past four years favored the president.
Both campaigns made a big push in Ohio in the final weeks before the election.
But seven out of 10 Ohio voters say they had their minds made up before the final two months of the campaign and before the flood of ads and candidate visits. Only a handful waited until the final days to decide.
And it's probably no surprise that a majority of voters in Ohio said each candidate attacked the other unfairly after being swamped with television and radio ads and mailers. Slightly more people said Romney attacked Obama unfairly.
Associated Press writers Tom Sheeran in Berea and Ann Sanner in Columbus contributed to this report.
The survey of 3,754 Ohio voters was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research. This includes preliminary results from interviews conducted as voters left a random sample of 50 precincts statewide Tuesday, as well as 504 who voted early or absentee and were interviewed by landline or cellular telephone from Oct. 26 through Nov. 3. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.