Nationally, voters were split along racial, cultural and economic lines, and the divisions the winner will confront were evident from the national exit polls.
Six in 10 voters said Tuesday that the economy was the most important issue. Romney was winning a narrow majority of those voters. Asked to cite the biggest economic problems, four in 10 said unemployment. Obama was winning among those voters. Another four in 10 said rising prices. Obama and Romney were splitting those voters.
The president's health-care plan was another fault line. Almost half the voters said they favored its repeal, in whole or in part, and more than eight in 10 of them backed Romney. But 94 percent of those who said the plan should be expanded or kept as is supported Obama.
Voters were evenly divided on which candidate they trusted to deal with the deficit. Those who said Romney backed his candidacy by 95 percent to 3 percent. Those who cited Obama backed him 98 to 1.
A majority of voters said government is doing too many things, and three-quarters of them backed Romney. The 43 percent who said government should do more to solve problems split 81 to 17 for Obama.
Obama and Romney fought out the campaign as a contest of competing visions, and the voters picked their sides and their candidates with passion Tuesday. Both candidates warned of dire consequences if the other prevailed. Both spent much of their time courting and mobilizing their bases.
As a result, said William Galston of the Brookings Institution, the campaign did little to heal the divisions that have defined politics and the debates in Washington for much of the past decade. "I don't think there is anything in this election that has pointed a way forward," he said.
Not that everyone is pessimistic about the future. Both Obama and Romney ended their campaigns with an appeal for bipartisanship. Some Democrats believe that Obama will have the latitude from his base to strike deals with Republicans and that enough Republicans will be chastened by losing the election to cooperate more with him than they have in the first term.