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Posted by on Oct 28, 2008 in Politics | 2 comments

Pew Poll: Obama Favored By Early Voters As Lead Widens Over McCain

A new Pew Research Center poll shows Republican Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain’s lead shrinking — and underlines the impact early voting could have on this and future elections.

The convenience of voting early is taking the nation by storm. And it could have a hard-nosed impact on this and even more so in future elections: the old conventional wisdom that an election can be swayed by last minute charges or events may become less operative, since early voting ensures that a good chunk of voters will have cast their ballots before the campaign’s closing days. And this chunk of the voting pool can be expected to grow as early voting continues to catch on. Pew finds:

Barack Obama leads John McCain by a 52% to 36% margin in Pew’s latest nationwide survey of 1,325 registered voters. This is the fourth consecutive survey that has found support for the Republican candidate edging down. In contrast, since early October weekly Pew surveys have shown about the same number of respondents saying they back Obama. When the sample is narrowed to those most likely to vote, Obama leads by 53% to 38%.

A breakdown of voting intentions by demographic groups shows that since mid- September, McCain’s support has declined significantly across most voting blocs. Currently, McCain holds a statistically significant advantage only among white evangelical Protestants (aside from Republicans). In addition, Obama runs nearly even with McCain in the so-called red states, all of which George W. Bush won in 2004.

The question: how does this poll fit in with other polls that show (a) a tightening of the race in overall numbers, (b) Obama leading in some key battleground states. Is this poll way out of whack, or is it more accurate since it takes into account early voting?

Here is the number that may be embryonic in 2008 but could take on increasing importance in future elections if early voting continues to catch on and isn’t stalemated by the reservations some experts have against it:

Just as ominous for the Republican candidate, Obama holds a 53% to 34% lead among the sizable minority of voters (15%) who say they have already voted. Among those who plan to vote early but have not yet voted (16% of voters), 56% support Obama, while 37% support McCain.

Pew also notes a notable “enthusiasm gap”:

While Obama’s support levels have not increased much in recent weeks, a growing percentage of his backers now say they support him strongly. Currently, 74% of Obama voters say they support him strongly, up from 65% in mid-September. A much smaller majority of McCain backers (56%) say they support him strongly, which is largely unchanged from mid-September.


Meanwhile, McCain remains hamstrung by the fact that Pew finds President George Bush’s approval rating has now fallen so far south that it’s almost is inside the core of the earth: only 22 percent of those polled approve of Bush’s job performance.

Here’s some other weblog reaction to news of this poll and the issues raised by early voting:

-Comments from Left Field calls the poll shocking:

To say this is an outlier would be to severely undermine just how out of whack the numbers are with the rest of the field. True, Obama’s 52 is well in keeping with the rest of the polling trends, but it’s real tough to buy McCain sitting at 36%. Equally hard to believe is the idea of the race actually widening when compared to an aggregated trend provided by Pollster which does reflect a very slight tightening of the race.

On the other hand, there are two very interesting things about the Pew poll. The first is the trending which is incredibly smooth. In keeping with its own data points of the past, both Obama’s and McCain’s positions are tracking almost perfectly as opposed to, say, your average Zogby poll which is sometimes out of whack with its own trending.

The other number, and the one that should really bother McCain, is that among those that have already voted, Obama apparently leads by 19 points. These are votes that are already in the bag and won’t be changed over the course of the next six days. Thus, this number is doubly foreboding for Team McCain because these are votes that are already counted against him, and because this could be a preview of what we will see one week from today.

Marc Ambinder:

Pew’s Andy Kohut conducts one of the better national surveys out there, and his results today — even assuming that he caught McCain in a downdraft — are fairly stunning.

My DD:

But regardless of whether Obama is up 3 points, 15 points, or about 6 points, it’s important not to get complacent.

Washington Independent:

Announcing a presidential poll that actually matters!

Unlike hypothetical polling — Who might you vote for in three months? — the launch of early voting means pollsters can survey which candidate is actually stacking up more ballots. Sen. Barack Obama has the early lead.

Politicus USA:

In what could be a very ominous sign for McCain, 15% of those surveyed had already voted, and those voters overwhelmingly supported Obama, 53%-34%. An additional 16% said that they plan to vote early, and they support Obama, 56%-37%. Since Democrats are more enthused about this election than Republicans, it was a pretty safe assumption that these early voting numbers would favor Obama, but 19% is a huge number. If this margin holds up, Obama will go into Election Day leading in many key states.

Absentee ballots and early voting has long been the domain of the Republican Party. It is a tribute to Obama’s ground organization that so many voters have turned out early for him. With a week to go, all the numbers are starting to point to a possible big win by Obama. The McCain campaign doesn’t seem to have the time, money, or message needed to close the gap. It is very telling that support for Obama has stayed steady for weeks now, while McCain continues to drop. It would seem that the momentum is with Obama heading into the last week of the campaign.

James Joyner:

Obama is leading with every education cohort, every income bracket, every top level religious cohort, and both sexes. Particularly fascinating to me, given all the discussion of race in this contest, is that Obama is tied with McCain among whites, with each getting 44%, and Obama leading slightly (45-43) with white women.

Not surprising, but amusing: Undecideds aren’t very interested.

NRO’s The Campaign Spot:

One more thought on the Pew poll — among registered voters, they put Obama ahead, 52-36, an astonishing 16 percent lead, way ahead of anyone else except Newsweek. (They’ve also got Nader at 3 percent in their swing states.) They have a 15 percent margin among likely voters. Either they’re really accurate, and we’re heading to a popular vote blowout on par with 1984… or their model is really, really wrong.

Of course, their end-of-October poll in 2004 put Kerry ahead among registered voters, 46-45. Their likely voters numbers put Bush ahead.


In other words, Obama is running 19 points ahead right now. That would be a total wipeout with staggering downticket fallout. McCain should be able to close the gap a little on Election Day, but the survey shows that McCain is trailing by 18 points among people that plan to vote on election day.

A big premise of the Republican spinmeisters is that the undecided voters will break late for John McCain, but it doesn’t look like that is happening. I think McCain voters are actually changing their minds as they realize that their candidate is unlikely to win.

I have always thought that this election would break very hard in one direction or the other. One candidate was going to win the argument and we would not see another nailbiting election. I think we’re beginning to see that now.

The Anonymous Liberal:

Today the Pew Research Center, a respected polling organization, released a national poll with a large sample size showing Obama running away with the election. According to Pew, Obama is up by a staggering 52-36 margin among registered voters and 53-38 among likely voters. Last week there were several national polls, from Newsweek and CBS, showing similarly large margins.

On the other hand, Gallup–another venerable polling organization–now shows Obama ahead by just 2 points, 49-47 in their daily tracking poll (under their traditional likely voter model). There have been several other polls this week showing a similarly narrow lead, in the 1-5 point range.

This kind of divergence cannot be the result of simple statistical noise. It can only be explained by the use of differing assumptions about who will actually show up on election day. The Gallup poll makes this point clear, showing Obama with a larger 51-44 lead when using an expanded likely voter model. The bottom line, though, is that no one will really know which model is right until next week.

What does this mean? AL adds:

That said, we may actually be reaching a point of convergence now. In the last few days, most of the tracking polls show movement toward McCain…Is this an actual tightening of the polls? Possibly. Will the McCain campaign be able to use this trend to sell a comeback narrative to the press? Maybe, but it will probably take another day of movement toward McCain before the media treats this as more than statistical noise (especially in light of today’s Pew poll).

But once again, the impact of a comeback narrative may be slightly muted. The reason: a portion of the voters have already voted. Another portion probably have solidified their choices and all that remains is casting votes at the polls. The race is now over yet — but there are now constraints on the impact of last minute assertions or developments on voting impact.