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As Dust Settles, Voters Cite Campaign's Negativity

Voters were frustrated by a 2012 presidential race they called more negative than usual and more devoid of substantive discussion of issues, according to a survey released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

And voters are pessimistic about the prospect of a more productive Congress, Pew found.

Two-thirds of registered voters surveyed after Election Day said they believe relations between Democrats and Republicans will stay the same or worsen over the coming year.

Optimism over President Obama's chances for success stands at 56 percent, down from the 67 percent who envisioned success for the newly elected Democratic president four years ago.

An election marked by superPACs and negative ads left 68 percent of those surveyed saying there was more "negative campaigning and mudslinging" than normal, compared to 54 percent just four years ago. That neared the 72 percent who called the 2004 race between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry as more negative than normal, and tied the 68 percent who viewed the 1992 contest between President George H.W. Bush, Democrat Bill Clinton and independent Ross Perot that way.

One counterintuitive note: Despite voters' complaints that the election season lacked discussion on the big issues, 87 percent of those surveyed also said they learned enough to make an informed choice.

Pew's report is chockablock with interesting findings, from the marked increase in voters who get their campaign news primarily from the Internet, to the fact that most of those surveyed said they were happy that Congress remained divided — with Republicans retaining control of the House, and Democrats still with a majority in the Senate.

Here are a few more survey findings, and lots of numbers, that we thought were illuminating for those of us still hashing over Election Day 2012:

-- Those who voted for Obama described themselves most frequently as "relieved" about the election results.

-- Those who backed Republican Mitt Romney were more likely to say they were "disappointed" than "surprised" at the outcome.

-- Not surprisingly, "economy/jobs" was cited as the top issue for voters, with 35 percent ranking it No. 1. Second was health care/Obamacare, at 11 percent. Everything else — including debt/deficit — was in the single digits.

-- The Internet surged as a main source for campaign news and is now second only to television. The survey found that 67 percent got their campaign news primarily from TV; 47 percent mostly from the Internet; 27 percent from newspapers; and 20 percent from the radio.

-- Press coverage was seen as more evenhanded in its coverage of Obama. Of those surveyed, 60 percent said the media covered Obama fairly; 54 percent said the same of the coverage of Romney. Republicans were much more likely to say coverage of their candidate had been unfair.

-- Fifty-two percent of those surveyed said they're happy Obama was re-elected; 45 percent characterized themselves as unhappy. The results are similar to post-re-election numbers for both George W. Bush in 2004 (53-43 percent) and Bill Clinton in 1996 (53-42 percent).

-- This one surprised us because of what appeared to be a much more aggressive early voting effort this year: 37 percent of voters cast their ballot before Election Day, with most citing convenience as the reason. In 2008, 34 percent said they voted early.

And, just for context on the emotional condition of the electorate as Obama prepares to begin his second term, the following shows how voters felt about the newly elected president in 2008, and how they feel now, as told to Pew:

Question: Does Barack Obama make you feel hopeful/Proud/Angry/Uneasy?

Hopeful: 2012: 54 percent; 2008: 69 percent
Proud: 2012: 53 percent; 2008: 65 percent
Angry: 2012: 21 percent; 2008: 9 percent
Uneasy: 2012: 41 percent; 2008: 35 percent

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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