By Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 3, 2008
With one day to go, Democrat Barack Obama appears to have rebuffed recent GOP efforts to label him as "too liberal" or too big a gamble.
The new Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll puts Obama well out in front over Republican John McCain and finds that Obama has firmly reestablished his advantage on handling the economy, beaten back a challenge on taxes and has an edge in terms of perceptions about which candidate would better deal with an unexpected major crisis.
The McCain campaign, meanwhile, has countered with improved outreach into the tossup states, neutralizing what had been a big advantage for the Democrat 10 days ago. More than a third of all voters in the six states The Post calls "up for grabs" -- Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Montana, Missouri and Indiana -- said they have heard from the McCain campaign in the past week. That is up sharply from the third week of October and on par with the number who have been contacted by Obama's campaign.
Obama and McCain roughly split the vote in the six states combined -- 51 percent back Obama, and 47 percent support McCain. Overall in the tracking poll, Obama holds an 11-point advantage, at the top end of the seven-to-11-point range he has held since the final presidential debate in mid-October.
To win in three of the six states -- Florida, Ohio and North Carolina -- McCain will have to overcome what appear to be significant Democratic advantages among early voters. Nationally, nearly three in 10 likely voters surveyed in the poll said they have cast their ballots; as a group, these voters break for the Democrat 59 percent to 40 percent.
In addition to official campaign contacts, Obama's supporters have been more active in encouraging friends and relatives to support the Democrat: Thirty-one percent of all voters said they have been asked by a friend or a family member to back Obama, compared with 22 percent who have been asked to vote for McCain.
Obama is also benefiting from a large enthusiasm gap that has been evident throughout the campaign, stretching back to the primaries, when Democrats were far more satisfied with their choices than Republicans were with theirs. Nearly seven in 10 Obama supporters are "very enthusiastic" about his candidacy; about four in 10 McCain backers feel that way about their candidate.
Obama has also crossed some important thresholds. More than half of the survey participants said he is sufficiently experienced, and he is now widely viewed as a "safe" pick. Respondents divide about evenly on whether McCain is a safe choice for president.
Age appears to be a factor in views about whether McCain is a safe pick. Sixty-two percent of likely voters who said the candidates' ages are important called McCain a risky choice; among those who said age is not a issue, the figure was 34 percent. That is also a big change from June, when less than half of those factoring in age labeled McCain a risk.
Respondents' reactions to Sarah Palin, the GOP vice presidential nominee, are also closely linked to how much they factor age into their preferences: Sixty percent of those who said age is an important consideration said Palin lowers the odds that they will vote for the GOP ticket. Overall, nearly half of all respondents said they are less likely to vote for McCain because she is on the ticket, a sharp increase from previous polls.
By contrast, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. is a net positive for Obama, even as nearly six in 10 respondents said the senator from Delaware does not influence their views one way or the other. But the biggest drag on McCain in the tracking poll has been the widespread perception that, if elected, he would mainly follow the course set by President Bush. The president's approval rating is stuck near historic lows, and half of all likely voters connect McCain with Bush. Obama wins support among nearly all those who see a close association between the two Republicans.
Nearly six in 10 rate Obama as "about right" ideologically, with few shifts on that question over the course of the campaign; far fewer see McCain as in tune with them on most issues.
Casting forward to Wednesday, more than half of McCain's supporters said they would be "scared" if Obama wins, as would about four in 10 of Obama's were McCain to come out on top. On the other end of the scale, 62 percent of Obama backers would be "excited" if he is elected, while McCain's supporters would be more muted in their reaction to his win, with 39 percent saying they would be excited.
The tracking poll started Oct. 16 and continues through Monday night. A total of 8,609 randomly selected adults have been interviewed on conventional and cellular telephones. The new release is based on interviews Wednesday through Saturday and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus two percentage points.
Assistant polling analyst Kyle Dropp contributed to this report.