Video: Can McCain still win?

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updated 10/30/2008 9:12:15 PM ET 2008-10-31T01:12:15

A growing number of voters have concluded that Senator John McCain’s running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, is not qualified to be vice president, weighing down the Republican ticket in the last days of the campaign, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

All told, 59 percent of voters surveyed said that Ms. Palin was not prepared for the job, up 9 percentage points since the beginning of the month. Nearly a third of voters polled said that the vice-presidential selection would be a major factor influencing their vote for president, and those voters broadly favored Senator Barack Obama.

In a possible indication that the choice of Ms. Palin has hurt Mr. McCain’s image, voters said that they had much more confidence in Mr. Obama to pick qualified people to serve in his administration than they did in Mr. McCain.

Polls caps long campaign
After nearly two years of campaigning, a pair of hotly contested nominating battles, a series of debates and an avalanche of ads, the new nationwide poll found the contours of the race taking shape in the last days before the election on Tuesday. Among the findings:

  • Mr. Obama is maintaining his lead, with 51 percent of likely voters supporting him and 40 percent supporting Mr. McCain in a head-to-head matchup.
  • Some perceptions of race are changing, with a marked increase in the number of people who say they believe that white and black people have an equal chance of getting ahead in America today.
  • Mr. McCain’s focus on taxes — including his talk about “Joe the Plumber” — seems to be having some effect, as a growing number of voters now say that Mr. McCain would not raise their taxes. The Arizona Republican has enlisted the help of Samuel J. Wurzelbacher of Ohio, whom he calls Joe the Plumber, since Mr. Obama told him he wanted to “spread the wealth.”
  • Eighty-nine percent of people view the economy negatively, and 85 percent think the country is on the wrong track.
  • Mr. Obama continues to have a significant advantage on such crucial issues as the economy, health care, and the war in Iraq.

The survey found that opinions of Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain have hardened considerably, as 9 in 10 voters who said that they had settled on a candidate indicated that their minds were made up; a growing number of them called it “extremely important” that their candidate win the election on Tuesday.

Small percentage still 'undecided'
About half of each of the candidate’s supporters said that they were “scared” of what the other candidate would do if elected. Just 4 percent of voters were undecided, and when they were pressed to say whom they were leaning toward, the shape of the race remained essentially the same.

Bolstered by the fiscal crisis and deep concerns about the direction of the country, Mr. Obama has seemed to solidify the support he has gained in recent months. When likely voters were asked whom they would vote for in an expanded field that included several third-party candidates, Mr. Obama got the support of 52 percent of them, Mr. McCain 39 percent, former Senator Bob Barr of Georgia 1 percent, and Ralph Nader 2 percent.

The nationwide telephone poll was conducted Saturday through Wednesday among 1,439 adults nationwide, including 1,308 registered voters. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The poll was conducted as a wide range of state polls have shown Mr. Obama ahead or tied in several crucial contested states, including some historically Republican states that Mr. McCain must carry to win the election.

The survey suggested that the historic candidacy of Mr. Obama, who would be the first African-American president if elected, has changed some perceptions of race in America. Nearly two-thirds of those polled said that white and black people have an equal chance of getting ahead in today’s society, up from the half who said that they thought so in July. And while 14 percent still said that most people they know would not vote for a black presidential candidate, a question pollsters often ask to try to gauge bias, the number has dropped considerably since the campaign began.

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Heavy focus on taxes
Mr. McCain’s heavy focus on taxes in the final weeks of the campaign seems to be having some effect, the poll found. Forty-seven percent of voters said that Mr. McCain would not raise taxes on people like them, up from just 38 percent who said so two weeks ago. (And 50 percent said that they thought Mr. Obama would raise taxes on people like them, while 44 percent said that he would not; both numbers are similar to two weeks ago.)

With just days until Americans choose a new president, the survey found respondents deeply uneasy about the state of their country. Eight-five percent of them said that the country is pretty seriously on the wrong track, near the record high recorded earlier this month. A majority said that the United States should have stayed out of Iraq. And President Bush’s approval rating remains at 22 percent, tied for the lowest presidential approval rating on record (which was President Harry S. Truman’s rating, recorded by the Gallup poll in 1952).

Mr. McCain’s renewed efforts to recast himself as the candidate of change — he and Ms. Palin sometimes refer to themselves as “a couple of mavericks” — have apparently faltered. Sixty-four percent of voters polled said that Mr. Obama would bring about real change if elected, while only 39 percent said that Mr. McCain would. And despite Mr. McCain’s increased efforts to distance himself from President Bush, a majority still said that he would generally continue President Bush’s policies.

'Same old thing'
Dixie Cromwell, a 36-year-old cosmetologist from Shelby, N.C., who is a Republican, said in a follow-up interview that she had already voted for Mr. Obama.

“I come from a family of Republicans and I generally vote Republican, but this year I voted Democrat,” she said. “I just don’t feel we can go through any more of the same old thing that we’ve been going through with the Republican party.”

The poll showed that voters have sharply different expectations of how both men would perform as president. Mr. Obama’s policies were seen as much more likely to improve the economy, provide health insurance to more people, and scale back military involvement in Iraq than those of Mr. McCain. But Mr. McCain enjoyed an advantage when it came to questions about which candidate would make a better commander in chief: 47 percent of voters said that Mr. McCain was very likely to be an effective commander in chief, compared with 33 percent who said Mr. Obama would be.

While a majority viewed Ms. Palin as unqualified for the vice presidency, about three quarters of voters saw Mr. Obama’s running mate, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, as qualified for the job. The increase in the number of voters who said that Ms. Palin was not prepared was driven almost entirely by Republicans and independents.

Overall, views of Ms. Palin were apparently shaped more by ideology and party than by gender. Ms. Palin was viewed as unprepared for the job by about 6 in 10 men and women alike. But 8 in 10 Democrats viewed her as unprepared, as well as more than 6 in 10 independents, and 3 in 10 Republicans.

Hope Smith, 68, a Republican from Davie, Fla., said in a follow-up interview that she planned to cross over this year and vote for a Democrat for the first time.

“Palin is just not prepared, and also I like Joe Biden,” said Mrs. Smith, a retired clerical worker. “I think he has a lot of experience and will work well with Obama. If McCain is elected we’ll have four more years of the same policies as Bush.”

Marjorie Connelly, Megan Thee and Marina Stefan contributed reporting.

This report, Increasingly, Poll Shows Palin Hurting McCain’s Chances, originally appeared in the New York Times.

Copyright © 2013 The New York Times

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