Likely Rise in Voter Turnout Bodes Well for Democrats
Section 3: The Obama-McCain Matchup
In the national matchup among registered voters, Obama leads McCain by eight points, 48% to 40%, which is slightly larger than Obama’s lead in late May (47% to 44%). Obama is doing about as well among most demographic groups as Kerry and Gore were doing at this stage four and eight years ago, respectively. The major exception is younger voters: Obama has larger leads among voters under age 30, as well as those ages 30 to 49, than either Kerry or Gore.
Obama and McCain receive comparable levels of support from voters in their own parties (82% each), and are roughly even among independents (42% for Obama, 41% for McCain). Obama’s advantage is a result of the fact that Democrats outnumber Republicans among registered voters (37% to 26%) in the poll.
Obama holds a big lead among voters under age 30 (56% to 36%), the least affluent (59% to 29% among those with family incomes under $30,000), as well as African Americans (90% to 3%), and the religiously unaffiliated (67% to 24%).
Since May, Obama has increased his advantage among women voters; currently, he leads McCain among women by 51% to 37%; in May, his lead was only five points (47% to 42%). Men are divided, 45% for Obama, 44% for McCain.
McCain holds an eight-point lead (48% to 40%) among white voters overall, a result of his 17-point advantage among white men; among white women, the candidates are tied (43% each). Eight years ago, Bush led Gore in June by nine points among white voters; in 2004, Bush led Kerry by 15 points among this group.
Among white voters who have not attended college, McCain holds a modest 45% to 39% lead. Bush led Gore by a comparable margin in June 2000 (48% to 42%), and held a wider advantage over Kerry among non-college whites four years ago (53% to 41%).
White evangelical Protestants favor McCain over Obama by a margin of 61% to 25%, a smaller advantage than in May this year when his lead was 71% to 20%. Among white mainline Protestants, McCain leads Obama 53% to 39%. He also has a 46%-40% edge among white non-Hispanic Catholics. White Catholics were more evenly divided at this stage in the elections of four and eight years ago.
Most Back McCain Only Moderately
In addition to trailing Obama by eight points overall, McCain also receives far less strong backing from his supporters. Of the 40% who favor McCain over Obama this fall, barely a third (14% of voters overall) say they support him strongly. Nearly twice as many (26% of voters overall) say they back McCain “only moderately.” By comparison, most of Obama’s backers describe themselves as strong supporters (28% of voters overall), while 19% of voters nationwide say they are only moderate supporters of Obama.
The disparity in strong support for the two candidates this year is the largest measured in the past two decades. Among all registered voters, twice as many describe themselves as strong Obama backers than call themselves strong McCain backers (28% vs. 14%).
Four years ago, Bush had a slight edge over Kerry in strong support (32% vs. 28%), though both men drew more strong backing than moderate backing. In June 2000, fewer than half of both Bush’s and Gore’s backers said they supported their candidate strongly. The last election that exhibited a substantial intensity gap at this point of the campaign was 1996; though neither candidate garnered a great deal of strong support, more backed Clinton strongly (22%) than Bob Dole (13%).
The intensity of support for Obama at this stage of the campaign is identical to how voters felt about Kerry in August 2004. But McCain’s standing is a stark contrast to the intensity of support for Bush four years ago, when the vast majority of Bush’s voters said they backed him strongly. And in June 2000, 20% of voters backed Bush strongly, compared with 14% for McCain today.
The strength of support for McCain is more comparable to early feelings among Dole’s supporters in June 1996 and George H.W. Bush’s supporters in the early stages of the 1992 and 1988 campaigns. In all three cases, twice as many backers said they were only moderate supporters as said they backed the candidates strongly.
Key GOP Groups Lack Strong Commitment
The lack of strong support for McCain is particularly notable within the Republican base. While just over eight-in-ten (82%) Republicans support McCain over Obama, only about a third (35%) says they are strong McCain supporters. Four years ago, nearly three-quarters of Republicans (73%) described themselves as strong supporters of George W. Bush, and in 2000 47% backed Bush strongly.
McCain fails to draw a great deal of strong support from any segment of the GOP base. Fewer than four-in-ten conservative Republicans and moderate and liberal Republicans support McCain strongly (36% and 34%, respectively). Similarly, just 35% of weekly churchgoers, and an identical percentage of those who attend less frequently, say they support McCain strongly. In August 2004, Bush attracted strong support from substantial majorities in each of these groups.
Looking back to the 2000 campaign, McCain runs about slightly better among moderate and liberal Republicans than Bush did in June of that year, but he lags well behind in terms of strong support from conservatives. In June 2000, 58% of conservative Republicans said they backed Bush strongly; today just 36% offer the same level of support to McCain.
Obama’s Strong Support
A majority (55%) of Democratic voters strongly support Obama, a much greater proportion than the share of Republicans who back McCain strongly (35%). However, among Democrats, there are sizable differences in the intensity of support for Obama across some demographic groups.
Obama attracts considerably more strong support among African American Democrats than among white Democrats; nearly eight-in-ten black Democratic voters (77%) say they support Obama strongly, compared with fewer than half of white Democrats (47%). In August 2004, Kerry also drew more strong support among black Democrats than among whites, but the gap was much smaller than it currently is for Obama (65% of black Democrats vs. 56% of white Democrats).
A solid majority of Democrats under age 50 (61%) strongly backs Obama; far fewer older Democratic voters (48%) say they support him strongly. This also marks a significant difference from the pattern of Kerry’s support four years ago, and Gore’s in 2000. Both candidates drew more strong support among older Democratic voters than among younger Democrats.
Liberal Democrats strongly support Obama at higher rates than do conservative and moderate Democrats (68% vs. 50%). That was also the case for Kerry in August 2004, as well as for Gore in 2000, though Gore drew less strong support from both groups than either Kerry or Obama.
Primary Political Fallout
The vast majority of Republican and Republican-leaning voters who backed another candidate during the primaries now support McCain in the general election horserace. In fact, about the same proportion of GOP voters who did not prefer him in the primaries as those who did now support McCain (84% vs. 82%).
Obama, on the other hand, draws much less support from former Clinton supporters than he does among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters who backed him for the nomination. Just 69% of former Clinton supporters support Obama in the general election; 17% support McCain and 14% say they don’t know or volunteer someone else. Obama wins the support of virtually all the Democrats who favored him for the nomination (91%).
On balance, more former Clinton backers support Obama only moderately than support him strongly (39% vs. 30%). But McCain has even lower levels of strong support from Republicans who favored another candidate for the nomination; just a quarter of this group supports McCain strongly, compared with 57% who support him only moderately.
In a similar vein, only about half of GOP and Republican-leaning voters (47%) – including just 35% of Republicans who backed someone other than McCain for the nomination – say they are satisfied with the quality of candidates this year. Nearly three-quarters of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters (72%) – including a solid majority of former Clinton supporters (58%) – say they are satisfied with their presidential choices.
More Republican voters than Democratic voters also agree that it is difficult to choose between Obama and Clinton because neither would make a good president (37% vs. 24%). A relatively large minority of former Clinton supporters (37%) believes neither candidate would make a good president, but an even larger proportion of GOP voters who did not back McCain for the nomination subscribes to this sentiment (45%).
Views of Obama-Clinton Ticket
More than half of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters (55%) would like Obama to name Hillary Clinton his running mate. The proportion favoring this pairing has changed little since March, when 59% held that view; in May, 53% said they would like to see Obama choose Clinton.
Those who supported Clinton in the primaries remain far more enthusiastic about the joint-ticket idea – 78% back it – than those who supported Obama in the primaries. Just 37% of them think Obama should make Clinton his vice presidential pick, while 59% say he should not. There is virtually no change in the two groups’ opinions on this question since May.
Democratic and Democratic-leaning women voters – who were a key segment of Clinton’s base – are more likely than Democratic men to want to see Clinton on the ticket (60% versus 49%). This does not vary substantively across age groups. Democratic voters with the lowest household incomes also are more likely to favor having Clinton as the vice presidential candidate than are their better off counterparts.
Most Democratic voters who have completed college – a group that tended to favor Obama in the primaries – oppose Obama choosing Clinton as his running mate (54% say no, 39% say yes). Democratic voters with less education are much more supportive of the idea: About six-in-ten Democratic voters with either some college education (64%) or no more than a high school education (60%) would like Clinton to be Obama’s running mate.
Nearly two-thirds of conservative Democratic voters (65%) say they would like to see Obama choose Clinton as his vice presidential candidate. That compares with 53% of moderate Democrats and half of liberal Democrats.
Impact of Obama-Clinton Ticket
More than six-in-ten voters (62%) who say they supported Clinton for the Democratic nomination say her presence on the ticket would make them more likely to vote for Obama. This sentiment is equally strong among the majority of former Clinton supporters who already back Obama (69% favor him over McCain) as it is among the minority who either favor McCain or are undecided. As such, the greater benefit for Obama might come in reinforcing support among former Clinton supporters rather than bringing in those who are disaffected.
But putting Clinton on the ticket also has potential downsides. Among all registered voters, opinion is divided over how Clinton’s presence on the ticket would affect their votes. Almost half (49%) say that it would make no difference to their vote if Obama picked Clinton; 26% say that if Obama picked Clinton, they would be less likely to vote for him; another 23% say they would be more likely to vote for him if he made that choice.
Among swing voters, 28% say they would be more likely to vote for Obama if he ran with Clinton, while a third (33%) say they would be less likely to vote for Obama if he took Clinton as his running mate. Another 35% say it would not matter.
Fewer See McCain Winning
Far fewer voters believe that McCain will win the election than predicted a McCain victory in April. Currently, 53% say Obama is most likely to win, compared with 27% who say McCain. In April, 47% expected an Obama victory, while 42% said McCain was most likely to prevail. The proportion who declined to offer a prediction has nearly doubled, from 11% to 20%, since April.
McCain’s own supporters – and Republican voters more generally – are far less optimistic about his chances than they were just two months ago. Only about half of McCain supporters (49%) say he is most likely to win; in April, 69% said he was most likely to prevail in the fall. Conservative Republicans also are less confident about McCain’s prospects than they were in April: 49% now say he is more likely to win, compared with 70% then.
By greater than two-to-one (54% to 24%), more independents say Obama, rather than McCain, is more likely to win the November election. Independents were more evenly divided in April (46% Obama vs. 43% McCain).
Democratic voters are even more confident of victory in the fall than they were in April. Just 15% say McCain is most likely to win, down from 27% in April. The proportion of Democratic voters expecting an Obama victory has risen modestly, from 65% to 70%, since then.
One-in-three are ‘Swing Voters’
A third of registered voters this year indicate that they are undecided or say they might change their mind about their vote choice, which is larger than the size of the swing vote in 2004 (21%) and nearly equal to the size of the swing vote eight years ago (32% vs. 33% today). These so-called swing voters are divided into three roughly equal groups: those who only lean to McCain or who say there is some chance they will vote for Obama (11% of the total); those who lean to Obama but say there is some chance they will vote for McCain (10%); and the completely undecided (12% who refused to lean one way or the other).
Certain Obama voters — those who say there is no chance they’ll vote for McCain — outnumber certain McCain voters by 38% to 29%. This nine-point advantage in certain support is much higher than either party’s nominee has enjoyed over the past five presidential election cycles. In 2004, 2000, and 1992, the voters certain about their choice divided evenly between the Republican and Democratic candidates. In July 1996, Democratic incumbent Bill Clinton had a five-point advantage in certain support over his Republican opponent, Bob Dole.
The larger swing vote now compared with four years ago is a result of greater Republican uncertainty as well as the large number of independents who have yet to settle on a candidate.
About a quarter of conservative Republicans (24%) are now classified as swing voters, which is much greater than the percentage of conservative Republican swing voters in both 2004 and 2000 (6% and 14%, respectively). Moderate and liberal Republicans are much more uncertain about their vote choice: 43% are classified as swing voters, compared with 26% four years ago, and 30% eight years ago.
Independents also are much less settled now than in 2004, though their level of uncertainty is comparable to that seen in 2000. This year, 46% are classified as swing voters, compared with 45% eight years and just 28% in 2004. Among conservative and moderate Democrats, 27% are currently not certain, similar to the 30% in 2000 and slightly higher than in 2004 (when 23% were swing voters). Just 14% of liberal Democrats are not certain about their vote, which is about the same as in June 2004 (17%), and slightly less than in 2000 (23%).
Swing Voters’ Attitudes
Demographically, the swing voters are not markedly different from the rest of the electorate. In terms of gender, age, income, marital status, and other personal characteristics, they closely match other voters. They are somewhat less educated than certain McCain voters or c
ertain Obama voters. In terms of partisanship they split evenly (27% each) between Democrat and Republican. On the issues of abortion, gay marriage, the war in Iraq, and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, their views mirror those of the public as a whole.
With respect to evaluations of the candidates, swing voters favor McCain on some attributes and Obama on the others. For example, a narrow majority (52%) says Obama is the candidate better able to connect well with ordinary Americans, and 55% choose Obama as the candidate who is more personally likeable.
But an even larger majority (58%) says McCain is the candidate most likely to use good judgment in a crisis, and more – though not a majority – say McCain is the candidate who shares their values (37% say this about McCain, 25% Obama).