Report

Presidential Race Draws Even

  • August 13, 2008

With less than two weeks to go before the start of the presidential nominating conventions, Barack Obama's lead over John McCain has disappeared. The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds 46% of registered voters saying they favor or lean to the putative Democratic candidate, while 43% back his likely Republican rival. In late June, Obama held a comfortable 48%-to-40% margin over McCain, which narrowed in mid-July to 47% to 42%.

Two factors appear to be at play in shifting voter sentiment. First, McCain is garnering more support from his base - including Republicans and white evangelical Protestants - than he was in June, and he also has steadily gained backing from white working class voters over this period. Secondly and more generally, the Arizona senator has made gains on his leadership image. An even greater percentage of voters than in June now see McCain as the candidate who would use the best judgment in a crisis, and an increasing percentage see him as the candidate who can get things done.

Conversely, Obama has made little progress in increasing his support among core Democrats since June - currently 83% favor him compared with 87% of Republicans who back McCain. The likely Democratic nominee is still getting relatively modest support from Hillary Clinton's former supporters: 72% of them support Obama, compared with the 88% support level that McCain receives from backers of his formal GOP rivals. Obama's strong points with voters are in being seen as the candidate with new ideas and as someone who connects well with ordinary people.

The survey was conducted by telephone - both landline phones and cell phones - from July 31-August 10 among 2,414 registered voters. It finds that race, gender and age are strong drivers of support in a closely divided electorate. Almost nine-in-ten African American voters (88%) back Obama, while McCain leads 51% to 39% among whites. Since June, McCain has gained support among men who now favor him by a 49%-to-41% margin. In contrast, women favor Obama by a roughly comparable margin of 51% to 38%. The Democratic candidate holds a 24 percentage-point lead over his rival among voters younger than age 30, whereas voters over age 50 are more evenly split (47% McCain, 42% Obama).

While Sen. McCain is attracting more support from Republicans than Sen. Obama is from Democrats, McCain's backers continue to be less enthusiastic about him than are Obama supporters about their candidate. Fewer than half of McCain's backers (39%) describe themselves as strong supporters of the Arizona senator, compared with 58% of Obama backers who say they support Obama strongly. The McCain supporters who back him "only moderately" are most troubled by his positions on economic issues, while Obama's soft supporters are most troubled by his personal abilities and experience.

As was the case in the Pew Research Center's June and July surveys, one in three voters (33%) can be categorized as swing voters - of this group 12% lean to Obama. 11% lean to McCain and 10% are undecided.

Read the full report Presidential Race Draws Even on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press Web site.