September 18, 2008

McCain Gains On Issues, But Stalls As Candidate Of Change

Section 4: Obama, McCain And The Issues

McCain has reduced Obama’s advantage on several major issues, including reducing the influence of lobbyists, dealing with the nation’s energy problems, and improving the nation’s economy. In addition, McCain has expanded his advantage as the candidate seen as best able to defend against terrorism, and now holds an 11-point lead as the candidate best able to make wise decisions about foreign policy (51% to 40%); in July, the two candidates ran about even on foreign policy.

Nonetheless, Obama holds substantial leads on most domestic issues, with his largest advantages on health care (21 points), the environment (21 points) and education (19 points).

Since late spring, McCain has made his biggest gain in perceptions about which candidate would do the best job of reducing the influence of lobbyists. Currently, 36% say McCain can do the best job in reducing lobbyists’ influence, up from 26% in June. The proportion saying Obama can do better in reining in lobbyists has declined over this period, from 51% to 40%.

Increasing percentages now say McCain would do best in defending the nation against terrorism (up eight points since July) and in making wise foreign policy decisions (up eight points as well). McCain also narrowed the gap on which candidate would best deal with the nation’s energy problems. In May, about half (51%) chose Obama, while 33% chose McCain. Now, 46% choose Obama and 40% choose McCain.

Obama still leads McCain as the candidate best able to improve economic conditions, but McCain has made gains since July. Currently, Obama leads McCain by 47% to 38%; in July, 47% of voters said Obama would do the best job of improving economic conditions, compared with 32% for McCain.

McCain Still Tied to Bush

Voters remain divided on whether McCain represents a significant change from President Bush. Overall, 45% say they think McCain would continue Bush’s policies, while 44% say he would take the country in a new direction. Views about whether McCain would set a different course have remained stable since March.

Not surprisingly, these impressions differ significantly by party, with 73% of Republicans saying McCain would take the country in a new direction; just 16% of Democrats agree. More than three-quarters of Democrats (76%) say McCain would continue Bush’s policies, compared with 17% of Republicans.

About half of independent voters (51%) say they think McCain would move the country in a new direction; 36% say he would continue Bush’s policies. In June, 46% of independent voters said McCain would take a new direction, compared with 40% who said he would continue Bush’s policies.

Impressions of the Candidates

When presented with a series of statements about the candidates, about four-in-ten (42%) voters say that they “worry McCain will take America into another war;” more than half (53%) disagree. In September 2004, some 51% said they worried Bush would take the nation into another war, compared to 45% who said they disagreed with the statement.

Not surprisingly, there is a wide gap in the current survey between Democrats and Republicans. Nearly three-quarters of Democrats say they worry McCain will take America into another war, compared with just 12% of Republicans. Roughly four-in-ten independents (37%) concur with the statement, while 59% disagree.

Voters also were asked if they agree that the chances of a terrorist attack would increase if Obama is elected. Three-in-ten agree with that statement, while 61% disagree. When the same question was asked four years ago, 36% agreed that the chances of a terrorist attack would increase if John Kerry were elected; 56% disagreed with the statement.

A narrow majority of Republicans (52%) believe that the chance of terrorism would increase if Obama is elected, while 41% disagree. Just 10% of Democrats say the chance of terrorism would increase under an Obama administration, while 83% disagree. About a third of independents (32%) believe the chance of terrorism would increase; a comparable percentage (37%) says they worry that McCain would lead the United States into another war.

Who Can Bring ‘Real Change’?

A narrow majority (53%) says they agree with the statement: “Barack Obama can bring about real change in Washington.” By comparison, substantially fewer (39%) agree that McCain can bring about real change in the nation’s capital.

Nearly half of independents (47%) agree with the change statement when asked about Obama, while 41% agree when it is asked about McCain. Large majorities of Democrats (83%) and Republicans (71%) view their party’s nominee as able to bring about real change in the capital.

A majority of women (57%) agree that Obama can bring “real change,” while 49% of men agree with the statement. For McCain, 42% of men agree he can bring change, while 37% of women take that stance.

Voters who are younger than 30, in particular, believe that Obama can bring about change; 61% agree with this statement about Obama compared with 41% who say the same about McCain. Far fewer older voters – especially those ages 50 and older (47%) – view Obama as an agent of change.

Impressions of Allegiances

Half of voters agree with the statement that McCain would “do too much for the wealthy,” while 45% say they disagree. By contrast, just 16% agree that Obama would “do too much for African Americans;” fully 78% disagree with this statement.

The idea that Obama would unfairly favor blacks is rejected by large majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans. Still, about a quarter of Republicans (26%) believe that Obama would do too much for blacks, compared with just 13% of independents and 10% of Democrats.

African American voters overwhelmingly disagree with the statement that Obama would do too much for blacks. Nearly one-in-five whites (18%) say Obama would do too much for blacks compared with 77% who disagree.

Among working class white voters – those who have not completed college – 22% agree that Obama would do too much for blacks; that compares with just 11% of white college graduates. Twice as many non-college whites say McCain would do too much for the wealthy than say that Obama would do too much for blacks.

Race Seen as Factor in Obama Opposition

Voters were asked if they agree or disagree with a statement that said “there are many people who won’t vote for Barack Obama because he is black.” About as many agree as disagree that race will be a factor in votes against the Democrat (46% vs. 49%).

Nearly seven-in-ten liberal Democratic voters (69%) say that many people will not vote for Obama because of his race, while 29% disagree. By contrast, just 30% of conservative Republicans agree with the statement, while 65% disagree. Moderates in both parties are more evenly split, as are independents.

More than six-in-ten African American voters (61%) and 54% of Hispanics say many people will not vote for Obama because he is black. A smaller percentage of white voters (43%) agree with that statement, compared with 53% who disagree.

Less educated white voters are nearly as likely as white college graduates to say that many will not support Obama because he is black (42% vs. 47%).

Voters ages 65 and older largely reject the belief that many people will not vote for Obama because of his race: just 33% agree with this statement while 59% disagree. Among younger age groups, far more voters say that many people will not vote for Obama because he is black.

Cite this publication: “McCain Gains On Issues, But Stalls As Candidate Of Change.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (September 18, 2008) http://www.people-press.org/2008/09/18/mccain-gains-on-issues-but-stalls-as-candidate-of-change/, accessed on July 23, 2014.