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August 20, 2008

CONTACT: David Leeds
(202) 994-6467;


GW-Battleground 2008 Poll Examines Voter Attitudes in Advance of the Presidential Election

WASHINGTON - The latest edition of The George Washington University Battleground 2008 Poll finds a negative political environment (78% wrong track) with voters most concerned about the economy and jobs (24%), gas and energy prices (15%), and the war in Iraq (12%).

Voters disapprove of George W. Bush's job performance (63%), but continue to approve of him as a person (57%).  Furthermore, nearly three quarters of voters disapprove of the job Congress has been doing this year (74%).  More than half (56%) say that they think Democrats are in control of Congress, while 27% believe it is the Republicans. 

Despite a negative political environment for the Republicans, the presidential horserace is within the margin of error (+ 3.1%). With a tight turnout model, McCain currently tops Obama by 1 point (47%-46%).  However, when voters are asked which candidate they think is going to win the election, 51% say Obama, versus 34% who think McCain will prevail. 

Both John McCain and Barack Obama enjoy majority favorable images (57% for each).  In the GW-Battleground Poll's first measure of the candidate's wives, 48% of voters have a favorable opinion of Michelle Obama, while 46% have a favorable opinion of Cindy McCain

Examining these results, Republican pollster Brian Tringali said, "It is amazing how similar the image scores appear to be for both Barack Obama and John McCain.  If Obama is this agent of change that America has been waiting for, why is his image no better than the nominee from the other party -- a political party whose brand is supposed to be so badly damaged?" 

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake notes, "Voters are looking for change.  That gives Obama a real advantage in this election even as McCain tries to reinvent himself.  Among undecided voters, Obama has a decided advantage in being better liked.  This poll also modeled a traditional electorate.  However, Obama has the ability to change the electorate.  Simulating modest gains in youth turnout takes the ballot to a 2-point advantage for Obama.  Changing the face of the electorate is Obama's ace in the hole."

Ron Faucheux, associate professorial lecturer at GW's Graduate School of Political Management, said, "The candidates will use the upcoming conventions to reinforce their positive and comparative messages.  This survey acts as an important benchmark going into the remaining weeks of the campaign which includes the vice presidential picks, acceptance speeches and three scheduled debates."

The negative political environment and widespread disapproval of the Republican president and Democratic controlled Congress carries through into name identifications with majorities of voters holding unfavorable views about George W. Bush (55%), the Republicans in Congress (54%), and the Democrats in Congress (50%). 

A majority (51%) of Americans believe the war in Iraq is not worth fighting.  However, a majority (56%) of voters also believes that the situation in Iraq has gotten better in the past six months.  Asked what leaders should do with U.S. troops currently deployed in Iraq, 44% of voters support keeping troops there until the country is stabilized, 31% would set a date for withdrawal in the next two years, and 23% believe an immediate withdrawal is necessary. 

Looking at perceptions of the overall race, a majority of voters (55%) are satisfied with the choice of candidates for president. Pluralities of voters claim that what they have seen, read, or heard about Obama and McCain have made them less likely to vote for those candidates (47% for McCain and 46% for Obama).  In addition, half of voters (50%) think that John McCain is running the more negative campaign, compared to 21% who think Obama is running more negative.    

Asked to assess their level of comfort about some personal characteristics of the presidential candidates, Republican candidate John McCain's age is the personal quality that the largest percentage of people are not comfortable with.  Twenty-seven percent (27%) said they are not at all comfortable voting for a candidate who is 72 years old, followed by 12% of voters who are not at all comfortable voting for someone who is divorced.  For Barack Obama, 5% are not at all comfortable voting for a candidate who is 46 years old and 4% of voters are not at all comfortable voting for an African American. 

 Barack Obama leads McCain when it comes to whom voters think best "represents middle class values" (52%-37%), "fights for people like me" (48%-39%), "will unite the country" (50%-36%), "is an independent voice" (50%-37%), and narrowly leads McCain in "will get things done" (44%-42%).  McCain leads Obama when voters are asked to name who "is a stronger leader" (52%-37%), "says what he believes" (44%-40%), and "shares your values" (46%-43%). 

In a series of questions about issue handling, McCain leads Obama when voters are asked who will better "reduce gas and energy prices" (40%-37%) and who will better handle "dealing with the war in Iraq" (54%-41%).  The candidates are tied in "keeping America prosperous" (43%-43%).  Obama has an advantage over McCain in who will be better when it comes to "creating jobs and improving the economy" (48%-39%) and "handling the health care issues" (54%-35%).   

Tringali said, "the positive re-evaluation of John McCain is the untold story of the last three months of this election.  John McCain's biggest comparative gain over the last three months has come on the issue of gas and energy prices."

Lake countered, "Obama has a decisive advantage on the economy and domestic agenda for the middle class that will determine this election.  Among voters overall, he is ahead 9 points on the economy and 15 points on being for the middle class.  Among undecided voters, Obama is ahead 12 points and 27 points respectively.  That should translate into decisively taking the undecided voters."

On a series of questions about economics, only 14% rate the current economy as "excellent" or "good."  Thirty-seven percent (37%) say the economy is "fair," while half of voters think it is poor (50%).  However, this measure is inconsistent in comparison to the rating of one's personal economic situation.  More than half of voters (51%) say their personal economic situation is excellent or good, while 36% say "just fair" and only 13% respond "poor." 

When voters are asked to select the current economic issue that is most important in determining their vote for president, 20% respond that it is the rising cost of gasoline and fuel.  When voters are asked who is the most responsible for the high cost of gas today, 20% blame oil companies, 14% say foreign oil producing countries, 14% think it is speculators, 11% blame President Bush, and 10% think it is the fault of China, India, and other developing countries.  In an effort to determine what voters think is the best solution to finding new domestic sources for energy, the most favorable proposals are incentives for renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal (93% favor); promoting energy conservation practices (92% favor); and  building new "wind power" generating turbines (90% favor). 

This bipartisan GW-Battleground 2008 Poll surveyed 1,003 registered likely voters nationwide August 10-14, 2008, and yields a margin of error of + 3.1%.  First conducted in 1991, this poll has accurately portrayed the political climate through four presidential and three mid-term election cycles.  This series of scientific surveys is unique to the industry in that it offers the distinct perspectives of two top pollsters from different sides of the aisle. 

The George Washington University is the sponsor of the GW-Battleground Poll. GW's role in the poll is guided by the university's Graduate School of Political Management. The university's public affairs, public policy, and international affairs programs (undergraduate and graduate) frequently are ranked highly in leading publications, including U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review.

Celinda Lake, Brian Tringali, and Ron Faucheux are available for comment.  For Lake, please contact Daniel Gotoff at Lake Research Partners, (202) 776-9066.  For Tringali, please contact Brian Nienaber at The Tarrance Group, (703) 684-6688.  For Faucheux, please contact David Leeds at GW, (202) 994-6467.  This data also is available online at:,, or

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