WASHINGTON (AP) – Fears of terror attacks competed in voters’ minds with pocketbook concerns, Associated Press exit polls found – and the rival worries kept Tuesday’s race between President Bush and Democrat John Kerry close.

Overall, the polls found, Americans were in a pessimistic frame of mind.

Majorities of voters said the war in Iraq is going badly and the economy is not doing well. But three-fourths said they are worried about the possibility of another terrorist attack, a factor playing to Bush’s strength.

The poll exploring the voters’ frame of mind was conducted among 9,753 people who had just cast ballots. It was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.

“I was really disappointed with both candidates, said Melissa Smith, 40, of Swift Creek, N.C., who said she didn’t finally make up her mind until she filled out her ballot. “Bush has made some choices for the wrong reasons. But I’m not sure I think Kerry has the strength to lead us in the right direction.”

Young voters supported Kerry over Bush by more than 15 percentage points, but the expected surge in their participation this year was not evident. Just under 10 percent of voters were between age 18 and 24, about the same share of the electorate as in 2000. But four years ago, they were evenly split between Bush and Kerry.

About a fifth of the voters considered themselves born-again Christians, and they cast ballots for the president by a 4-1 margin. That’s about the same margin as in 2000, when Christians who described themselves as part of the religious right said they were for Bush.

Bush fared best among those who said moral values were the most important issue, and among those who said terrorism – two of the top issues.

“I think Bin Laden is scared of Bush,” said Rebecca Lesko, 50, of Linwood, N.J. “That’s why we haven’t been bombed yet.”

Kerry fared best among those who said the economy was most important and those who said Iraq was their top concern – two of the other top issues.

Bob Greene, 49, of New Haven, Conn., said he supported Kerry because of anger toward Bush and the war in Iraq.

“Bush is going to kill more of our kids if he wins another four years,” said Greene, who has two sons, one 18 and the other 22.

In addition to in-person interviews Tuesday, the survey included 500 absentee or early voters interviewed by telephone during the past week. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 2 percentage points.

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