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Polls Indicate a Tightening Race as Election Day Arrives

November 3, 2008 at 6:20 PM EST
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A Pew poll shows Barack Obama with a narrowing lead in the hard-fought presidential race. Andy Kohut and Amy Walter examine the shape of the race on the eve of Election Day.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Tonight, the polling ends. And tomorrow, the voting begins — the voting ends.

Joining us for our final pre-election snapshot are Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, and Amy Walter, editor-in-chief of the Hotline, National Journal’s political daily.

We forget the voting has been going on for some time now. So, Andy, as you have been watching the voting going on for all this time, you’ve come up with a final poll which shows the race tightening just a little bit, but Barack Obama still in the lead.

ANDREW KOHUT, President, Pew Research Center: Yes, we have a six-point lead, which is statistically significant, pretty large lead. Other polls have an even larger lead, ones that we watch, the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll eight percent; Gallup has an 11-point lead; and CBS has as much as 13 points.

Those are all pretty big numbers. I don’t know of a national poll where Obama is behind or it’s even even.

Tightening polls

Amy Walter
Hotline
In our own poll, the Diageo-Hotline poll, we noticed over the course of the last couple of days some not surprising results, which is that Republicans starting to come back home to John McCain.

GWEN IFILL: Does the tightening mean anything, Amy? Or is that what always happens at this stage?

AMY WALTER, Editor-in-Chief, The Hotline: I think it is traditionally what happens at this stage. I mean, in our own poll, the Diageo-Hotline poll, we noticed over the course of the last couple of days some not surprising results, which is that Republicans starting to come back home to John McCain.

Earlier in the week, he was only getting, for example, 83 percent of Republicans. Now he's getting 87 percent of Republicans. That makes sense there.

Our poll, too, like Andy's, showing a 5-point lead here for Barack Obama.

You know, we're always starting to see that he's finally -- the gender gap, which still is in Obama's favor, excuse me, he's still doing very well among women, 10 points among women. Earlier in the week, it was even bigger. Obama was up by 16 points.

So I think it's some of the tightening -- some of these voters, yes, indeed, coming home. But when you look at historically where this election is, the fact that, even among women, John Kerry only carried those by 3 percent, the fact that, among men, that there's not the big gender gap benefiting McCain as it was George Bush, who won by 11 percent.

In our poll, John McCain's ahead of Obama among men by just two percent.

Obama's lead in swing states

Andy Kohut
President, Pew Research Center
Obama is leading in Virginia, which has become a swing state... He's leading in Ohio. He's leading in Pennsylvania. Now, the leads are close. And the battleground states individually don't look as lopsided as the national vote does.

GWEN IFILL: Let's walk through some of the things we're going to be watching tomorrow night. The battleground states, it's a 50-state election, of course, but we're watching a handful of states.

In your poll, Andy, you discover that Obama is leading in those handfuls of states by about 10 points.

ANDREW KOHUT: Yes, that pretty much squares out with what we see about with the state polls. I mean, Obama is leading in Virginia, which has become a swing state. Typically, we think of it as a red state. He's leading in Ohio. He's leading in Pennsylvania.

Now, the leads are close. These states are still close. And the battleground states individually don't look as lopsided as the national vote does.

But, remarkably, he's -- Obama is doing quite well in many of these places, even in places where he wouldn't -- where six months ago you wouldn't have thought he would have been competitive.

GWEN IFILL: Like?

ANDREW KOHUT: North Carolina. And, you know, I guess you'd say he's the favorite to win Virginia. A Democrat hasn't won Virginia since 1964.

GWEN IFILL: So what is driving that, Amy?

AMY WALTER: Yes, and the fact that we're actually watching North Dakota. We're going to have to pay really close attention to that, and Indiana, and thankfully Indiana closes early. So we'll have a sense early on about that.

But what's driving this is, in large part, what we've been picking up in these national polls is that it's not simply that Obama is doing well among one simple group of people, and so that just makes sense then for one part of the country.

It's that he's doing particularly well among African-Americans; hence, his strong showings in Virginia and North Carolina.

GWEN IFILL: Let's take a look at that, because he's leading, in Andy's poll, 89 percent to 5 percent among African-Americans. But, also, I think it's 82 percent to 31 percent among Hispanic-Americans. That's a huge gap. And it seems like a lost opportunity for the Republicans.

Missed opportunities for McCain

Amy Walter
Hotline
McCain was the candidate who lost conservative support because he was fighting on immigration reform that many in his party disagreed with...He lost support among conservatives for taking this position and he's not doing well among Hispanics.

ANDREW KOHUT: Well, the Republicans didn't do as well among Latinos in the midterm elections as they had done in '04, so I'm not so shocked by this. The question was, Latinos voted so heavily for Hillary Clinton, would they come back and support Obama? The answer appears to be, yes, yes, very much so.

AMY WALTER: And I think your point about a missed opportunity is a good one, too. Remember, John McCain was the candidate who lost conservative support because he was fighting on immigration reform that many in his party disagreed with him.

What we found is he lost support among conservatives for taking this position and he's not doing well among Hispanics, either.

So if you look then at these groups of Hispanic voters, that means that places like Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico now are considered battleground states.

GWEN IFILL: And even though Barack Obama is trailing John McCain among white voters at large, he still is getting over 42 percent of the white vote, which is kind of unusual.

ANDREW KOHUT: And it's -- he's got only -- he's only down by 3 or 4 points among white women. You know, we've looked at white women for a very long time, and they're still in play for Obama. Obviously, McCain has a strong lead among white men.

Impacts of the economic crisis

Andy Kohut
Pew Research Center
The economy is almost tailor made for a Democratic candidate. He has a 20-point lead, more confidence in Obama than McCain to deal with the economy. And the economy is the issue without rival in this election.

ANDREW KOHUT: But, you know, we have to wonder, well, what does North Carolina have in common with North Dakota and all of these places?

GWEN IFILL: Yes?

ANDREW KOHUT: All of these states and all of these people are experiencing this economy. And this economy has helped Barack Obama, along with his performance in the debates.

The economy is almost tailor made for a Democratic candidate. He has a 20-point lead, more confidence in Obama than McCain to deal with the economy. And the economy is the issue without rival in this election.

GWEN IFILL: Did the economic meltdown shift voters in this last month or did it just freeze everybody in place so that McCain couldn't get a better grip?

AMY WALTER: I think we're going to be analyzing this for a long time to come, but I think that we were watching this election take a certain path. And I think what happened with the economic crisis is it definitely was something that helped Obama.

There's no doubt about that, in terms of -- it was like a catalyst and it moved it very quickly in Obama's behalf.

I think, though, on top of it, you have to argue that McCain's reaction to the economic crisis, one in which he was not acting -- for many voters, they didn't see him as acting as resolutely as they would have liked, I think that has helped Barack Obama.

But, fundamentally, I don't know if we could say but for this crisis Obama would not be where he is.