Movable Voters Dwindle

Persuadable voters have dwindled in the closing days of the presidential election: Nearly a quarter of likely voters report that they’ve already cast their ballots, and, among the rest, 93 percent say their minds are definitely made up.

That underscores the peril for John McCain, trailing Barack Obama in vote preference with relatively few minds left to change. The dearth of movable voters marks the final shift from persuasion to turnout – an effort, by each side, to get its voters to vote.

Click here for a PDF of the analysis with questions.

On that question the game’s been changed by early voting. Twenty-four percent of likely voters in this ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll say they’ve already voted, compared with a total early or absentee vote of about 22 percent in 2004 and 15 percent in 2000. And there’s apparently more to come: An additional 14 percent say they still plan to vote early or absentee – though their time is running short.

Among the remaining movables, meantime, the pickings are slim. Excluding those who’ve already voted, just 7 percent of likely voters say they’re either entirely undecided or may yet change their choice – and half say in fact it’s pretty unlikely they’ll change their minds. Movables have shrunk from 30 percent at the start of the campaign in May to 26 percent before the conventions, 19 percent after and on to its single-digit level now.

Obama, meanwhile, continues a steady lead in vote preference, built in no small part on the preference of those early voters. Overall, among all likely voters, Obama continues to lead McCain by 53-44 percent in ABC/Post interviews the past four nights, unchanged from yesterday. Early voters favor Obama by a broader 59-40 percent.

Still-movable voters divide about evenly, 36-33 percent, with the rest fully undecided.

LIBERAL? – McCain’s challenges in moving the electorate are demonstrated by likely voters’ views of the candidates’ political ideologies. McCain’s regularly been portraying Obama as too liberal, and 39 percent agree. But that’s unchanged since June. And with just 3 percent calling Obama too conservative, that leaves a comfortable 56 percent who say he’s “about right” ideologically.

It’s a measure on which McCain himself has more trouble. Forty-one percent call him too conservative, as many as say the opposite of Obama. But an additional 13 percent call McCain too liberal – leaving fewer, 42 percent, who say he’s about right ideologically.

As in many such measures partisan and ideological divisions are deep. But just 44 percent of independents and 36 percent of moderates call McCain about right in terms of his ideology, compared with 52 and 65 percent, respectively, for Obama.

Among white likely voters, 48 percent say McCain’s about right ideologically – but as many in this group, 49 percent, say the same of Obama. And among white Catholics, a swing group in past elections, 49 percent say McCain’s about right – 53 percent, Obama.

In a glimmer for McCain, there has been a shift among white middle class voters in the last 10 days – a 9-point rise in the number calling Obama too liberal, from 46 percent to 55 percent. But that’s been counteracted by improvement for Obama among other whites.

VOTE GROUPS – In vote preferences, middle-class whites currently divide by 54-44 percent in McCain’s favor – a group George W. Bush won by a much broader 24-point margin, 62-38 percent, in 2004. And among all whites, McCain’s scant 5-point edge compares to Bush’s 17-point margin four years ago.

White Catholics, a swing group in the last eight presidential elections, are dividing essentially evenly, 50-49 percent, Obama-McCain. But that 50 percent is Obama’s best in this group since July, and he’s also running evenly with McCain among mainline or non-evangelical white Protestants. Bush in 2004 won white Catholics by 13 points, mainline white Protestants by 11.

Obama meanwhile has near-unanimous support from blacks, 97 percent, and a nearly a 3-1 advantage among Hispanic likely voters. While turnout may be up for all groups, this poll does not indicate disproportionately higher turnout by blacks; they account for 11 percent of likely voters, the same as in 2004.

Nor does ABC/Post tracking data indicate disproportionately higher turnout among young voters, those under age 30, who accounted for 17 percent of likely voters in 2004. They remain Obama’s best group, favoring him by 2-1; at the other end of age spectrum, seniors divide about evenly, 49-47 percent.

In terms of party affiliation, the gap between Democrats and Republicans among likely voters has reached 10 points, matching its average among all Americans in ABC/Post polls this year – and up from an equal Democratic-Republican split in partisan allegiance in 2003. It’s that increased Democratic advantage in partisanship that Obama’s looking to carry him through next Tuesday, and that McCain seeks to whittle down.

ECONOMY/ISSUES – Economy continues to be the driving force in voter preferences. Fifty-one percent call it the single most important issue in their vote, and those economy voters favor Obama by 60-37 percent; those who cite all other issues combined split 51-46 percent, McCain-Obama.

The strength of the economy vote shows across population groups. Whites who call the economy their top issue favor Obama by 53-45 percent; those who pick other issues prefer McCain, 58-40 percent. (As noted yesterday, there’s a similar effect among white men, usually a strongly Republican group.) Independents who are voting chiefly on the economy favor Obama by 56-41 percent; other independents, 53-42 for McCain.

It’s similar among married women, white women and white Catholics – all potential swing groups, Obama leads among those most concerned with the economy, McCain among those focused on other issues. There’s even an effect among Republicans: while Obama’s support from those not mainly concerned with the economy is 7 percent, among Republican economy voters it nearly triples, albeit just to 19 percent.

METHODOLOGY – Interviews for this ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll were conducted by telephone Oct. 28-31, 2008, among a random national sample of 1,896 likely voters, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a 2.5-point error margin for the full sample. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, PA.

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