HOW HE DID IT…. Barack Obama’s 52% of the popular vote is the best Democratic performance in 40 years, and the best of any candidate in either party in 20 years.

How did he do it? David Paul Kuhn takes a look at the exit polls.

Barack Obama, who will be the nation’s first African-American president, won the largest share of white support of any Democrat in a two-man race since 1976 amid a backdrop of economic anxiety unseen in at least a quarter-century, according to exit polls by The Associated Press and the major television networks.

Obama became the first Democrat to also win a majority since Jimmy Carter with the near-unanimous backing of blacks and the overwhelming support of youth as well as significant inroads with white men and strong support among Hispanics and educated voters.

The Illinois senator won 43 percent of white voters, 4 percentage points below Carter’s performance in 1976 and equal to what Bill Clinton won in the three-man race of 1996. Republican John McCain won 55 percent of the white vote.

Digging through the numbers, we see:

* Obama won self-identified independents (52% to 44%), and self-identified moderates (60% to 39%). I guess no one believed the whole “maverick” thing.

* While Obama did far better with white voters than most recent Democratic candidates, McCain still won every age of whites — except whites under 30, who strongly backed Obama (54% to 44%).

* Obama narrowly won among men (49% to 48%), and won among women by a large margin (56% to 43%).

* For all the talk about Obama being unable to win over Hispanic support, Hispanic voters backed Obama by more than a 2-to-1 margin. McCain’s Hispanic support dropped 10 points from Bush’s four years ago.

* Obama won Roman Catholic voters, another group he was supposed to lose.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.