NEW YORK — With just a day left until Election Day, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama holds a statistically significant advantage over Republican Sen. John McCain in the race for the White House, according to the final NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll before the election.
Obama leads McCain by eight points nationally among likely voters, 51 to 43 percent, which is down three points from his 53-to-42 lead in the poll nearly two weeks ago.
To put Obama’s eight-point edge into perspective, the final NBC/WSJ survey before the 2004 presidential election had President Bush with a slim one-point lead over John Kerry, 48 to 47 percent.
Bush went on to win that election, 51 to 48 percent.
'A hand that is hard to beat'
“The McCain campaign is going to have to thread the needle to pull out a victory on Election Day,” says Republican pollster Neil Newhouse, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart. “The campaign is facing an uphill battle.”
Hart puts it this way: “The results of this survey say it is going to take more than rain, sleet or snow to derail the Obama express. He is holding all the high cards, and that is a hand that is hard to beat.”
Looking inside the numbers, Obama leads McCain among African Americans (90 percent to 3 percent), Latinos (68 to 27), 18- to 34-year-olds (59 to 38), independents (48 to 38), blue-collar voters (51 to 44), suburban voters (49 to 44) and Catholics (49 to 46).
McCain, meanwhile, has the advantage among evangelicals (78 percent to 19 percent), those 65 years old and older (53 to 40), white men (54 to 42) and white women (48 to 47).
According to the poll — which was conducted of 1,011 likely voters from Nov. 1-2, and which has a margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points — the respondents seem to have made up their minds in the presidential contest.
Eighty-eight percent of Obama voters say they will “definitely” vote for the Illinois senator, 6 percent say they will “probably” vote for him and another 6 percent say they are “leaning” toward him.
By comparison, 83 percent of McCain voters say they will definitely vote for the Arizona Republican, 9 percent say they will probably vote for him and 7 percent say they’re leaning toward him.
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Obama preferred to handle economy, poll says
As in the last NBC/WSJ survey, this poll suggests that Obama’s lead has been fueled in part by perceptions that he would better handle the current economic crisis, as well as voters’ increased comfort with the idea of him as president.
Forty-two percent say they have either a great deal of confidence or quite a bit of confidence that Obama will be able to get the country’s economy back on track. That is compared with just 27 percent who say that about McCain.
In addition, 58 percent are “optimistic and confident” or “satisfied and hopeful” that Obama would do a good job if he becomes president. Forty-six percent said that of McCain.
And what’s more, an equal number of respondents (57 percent) believe that they identify with McCain’s and Obama’s values and background. McCain has always led Obama on this question in previous NBC/WSJ surveys.
“Obama seems to broken through on the values attribute,” Newhouse says. “For the first time in our polling, a majority of white voters believe Obama has a background and set of values they identify with.”
Some other findings in the poll:
- 30 percent say they have already voted, and Obama leads McCain among these voters, 51 to 43 percent;
- Respondents prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress over a GOP-controlled one by 12 points, 48 to 36 percent;
- Only 26 percent approve of President Bush’s job;
- And just 11 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction.
Mark Murray covers politics for NBC News.
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