McCain Gives Back Gains in New Jersey

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Having pulled within six points of Illinois Democratic Senator Barack Obama in the Garden State after September’s Republican Convention, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain gave back his gains. With Election Day less than a month away, the latest results from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll show Obama with a commanding lead among likely voters in New Jersey by 50% to 37%, with 11% of voters remaining undecided.

“To be competitive in New Jersey, McCain needed to make a strong play for voters dissatisfied with the results of the Democratic primary,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and a survey analyst for the PublicMind poll. “That simply has not happened.”

Democrats who voted for New York Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton are just as likely as other Democrats to be voting for Obama. Both candidates have consolidated support among their base, with 82% of Republicans supporting McCain, and 84% of Democrats supporting Obama and neither has made substantial gains among the opposing party. Most voters (86%) say they watched the vice-presidential debate: four of five Democrats say Delaware’s Democratic Sen. Joe Biden did the better job; but just three of five Republicans say Alaska’s Republican Gov. Sarah Palin did better. Women give the nod to Biden as the better debater by 57%-25%.  Those saying Palin is a good choice for vice-president declined to 34% from 47% in early September. Those saying Palin is not a good choice increased to 54% from 34% in early September.

“Palin, rather than providing either reassurance or consistency for the Republican message, has provided the political equivalent of a roller coaster ride” said Cassino, “It’s a lot of excitement but not something you want to experience all the time.”

McCain trails despite that voters are almost twice as likely to say that McCain (53%) rather than Obama (27%) has the background and experience necessary to be president.  Both are perceived to be strong leaders, though McCain edges Obama by 42%-39%. Obama leads, however, when voters are asked which candidate is better described as “honest and trustworthy.” And Obama trumps McCain by a two-to-one margin on the question of which candidate understands the needs of average people.  “When the economy is uncertain as it is now,” said Cassino, “voters are anxious for candidates to be sympathetic to the average person.”

Fewer than one in three voters (31%) think the economy will be doing better six months from now, while 17% say that it will be even worse. McCain runs even with Obama (45%-46%) among voters who say that the economy will be doing better six months from now, but trails badly (32%-57%) among those who say the economy will be the same and also trails badly (31%-52%) among voters who say the economy will be worse in six months.

Only 15% of likely voters say that the country is moving in the right direction, and nearly four in five (78%) say the country is headed in the wrong direction.  Most Democrats (86%) and three-quarters of independents (76%) say the country is on the wrong track. Republicans by a three-to-one margin (69%-22%) agree.

Only 17% of likely voters say they approve of the job President George W. Bush is doing while 76% disapprove. Only 41% of Republican voters approve of the president’s performance, while 48% disapprove along with nearly four of five independents (78%) and most Democrats (95%).

“McCain has walked the fine line between distancing himself from Bush enough to appeal to independents while not alienating Bush’s supporters,” said Cassino. “If he wants to regain ground in New Jersey and other blue-leaning states, he may have to sharpen his differences with Bush, and hope that the Republican base supports him anyway.”

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 790 likely voters statewide was conducted by telephone from Sept. 29, 2008 through Oct. 5, 2008 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points

Contacts: Peter Woolley 973.670.3239 Dan Cassino 973.896.7072

For more information, please call (973) 443-8661.

Copyright © 2008, Fairleigh Dickinson University. All rights reserved. FDU PublicMind Poll [Latest update 081007]