Barack Obama Leads John McCain in Presidential Race

August 7, 2008

Senator Barack Obama holds a 44% to 38% lead in Wisconsin over Senator John McCain in the presidential race. Senator Obama leads the race primarily because of a combination of the most important issues on the minds of voters and the impact of President Bush and the voter’s view about the direction of the country. The two issues that voters felt personally were most important to them were the economy and creating jobs (24%), and dealing with the war in Iraq (12%). On these issues Senator Obama had large leads. On the economy, Obama led Senator McCain by a 62% to 20% margin. On dealing with the war in Iraq his lead was 66% to 22%. Another issue that was frequently mentioned was improving education, where Senator Obama’s lead was 73% to 10%.

For Senator McCain the issues where he did the best with voters were holding the line on taxes where his advantage was 86% to 6%, fighting terrorism where his advantage was 82% to 11%, and illegal immigration where his advantage was 72% to 5%.

While there were other issues involved, these were the most notable differences in voters' support for either candidate.

The Bush Factor

It goes without saying that one of the unspoken parts of the support in the state is the view of President Bush. In this survey, Wisconsin voters had a favorable opinion of Barack Obama by a 51% to 31% spread. For Senator McCain it was 46% favorable to 37% unfavorable. The last time we surveyed Senator McCain’s popularity was in August 2001 and at that time it was also 46% favorable but only 19% unfavorable.

However, for President Bush the numbers continue to drop. Only 31% of the people in this sample held a favorable view of him while 61% had an unfavorable view. To put this into perspective, in September 2004 53% of the voters had a favorable view of President Bush while only 42% had an unfavorable opinion of him.

Added to this is tremendous pessimism about the direction of the country. Only 17% of the voters in this survey thought that the country was heading in the right direction while 73% thought that we had gotten seriously off on the wrong track. Since we began tracking this question in November 1993 17% is

the lowest number we have ever had on the direction of the country. What does this mean in terms of the direction of election? In September 2004 44% of Wisconsin residents thought the country was going in the right direction while 52% thought it was seriously off on the wrong track. These attitudes make it much more difficult for any Republican to win in Wisconsin. Added to this is the fact that only 16% of the people survey in this poll believed that their own family’s economic circumstances will improve over the next year, while 29% believe they will get worse and 49% believing they will stay the same. In September 2004 only 12% of voters thought their family circumstances would get worse over the next year. These long-range trends do not bode well for Republican candidates in Wisconsin this year.

Demographic Groups

In our results Senator Obama runs strongest in the city of Milwaukee with 56%, the Madison area with 58% and South East Wisconsin with 51%. Senator McCain’s major strength lies in Waukesha County with 61% and Milwaukee Suburbs where he had 44% of the vote. Among voters who say their family circumstances will improve Senator McCain had 58% of the vote, however among voters who thought their family economics would get worse Senator Obama led Senator McCain by a 50% to 25% spread. The voters who thought the country was moving in the right direction gave Senator McCain a dramatic 92% lead.

Among those who thought the country was on the wrong track Senator Obama leads by 57% to 25%. Among political groupings Senator Obama leads among Democrats by 87% to 3% while Senator McCain leads among Republicans by 75% to 12%. More importantly among Independents Senator McCain actually owns a small lead of 38% to 35%. Among Liberals Senator Obama leads 77% to 10%, among Conservatives Senator McCain leads 78% to 10%, and among voters who consider themselves middle-of-the-road Senator Obama had a commanding lead of 54% to 26%.

In the age groupings the key results are that Senator Obama does very well with younger voters. Among those 18 to 24 his lead is 44% to 30% and among those 25 to 34 it is 51% to 40%. However, among senior citizens (those 65 and older), Senator McCain leads 46% to 33%. In terms of education, Senator McCain leads among those with some high school (52% to 44%), high school graduates (41% to 39%). Barack Obama, however, leads among those who attended college (48% to 34%) and among those who graduated college his lead is 45% to 41%.

Income wise Senator McCain leads among those making $15,000 or under by 52% to 35%. He also leads with those making over $35,000 by 51% to 37%. Senator Obama leads among all other income groups.

In terms of race Senator Obama has a slight lead among white voters (42% to 41%), however among blacks in this particular survey Senator Obama’s lead was 94% to 0%. Among males Senator Obama has a lead of 43% to 40%; among females it increases to a 45% to 37% advantage over Senator McCain. It is also important to note that in this survey only 82% of Wisconsin voters have made a decision about which candidate they are likely to vote for in the November election. This is obviously a tight election with Senator Obama holding a lead outside the margin of error. There are also some reasons to believe that if the current trend lines, particularly how people view the direction of the country and issues like the economy and Iraq, continue to be the most important issues for Wisconsin voters Senator Obama will be a very difficult candidate to defeat in November. But there is still some hope for Senator McCain, particularly with Independents and older voters where he has a lead over Senator Obama.