New Poll Shows Race Is Tightening

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The presidential race tightened after the final debate, with John McCain gaining among whites and people earning less than $50,000, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that shows McCain and Barack Obama essentially running even among likely voters in the election homestretch.

The poll, which found Obama at 44 percent and McCain at 43 percent, supports what some Republicans and Democrats privately have said in recent days: that the race narrowed after the third debate as GOP-leaning voters drifted home to their party and McCain's "Joe the plumber" analogy struck a chord.

Three weeks ago, an AP-GfK survey found that Obama had surged to a seven-point lead over McCain, lifted by voters who thought the Democrat was better suited to lead the nation through its sudden economic crisis.

The contest is still volatile, and the split among voters is apparent less than two weeks before Election Day.

"I trust McCain more, and I do feel that he has more experience in government than Obama. I don't think Obama has been around long enough," said Angela Decker, 44, of La Porte, Ind.

But Karen Judd, 58, of Middleton, Wis., said, "Obama certainly has sufficient qualifications." She said any positive feelings about McCain evaporated with "the outright lying" in TV ads and his choice of running mate Sarah Palin, who "doesn't have the correct skills."

The new AP-GfK head-to-head result is a departure from some, but not all, recent national polls.

Obama and McCain were essentially tied among likely voters in the latest George Washington University Battleground Poll, conducted by Republican strategist Ed Goeas and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. In other surveys focusing on likely voters, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed Obama up by 9 percentage points, while a poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center had Obama leading by 14. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, among the broader category of people registered to vote, found Obama ahead by 10 points.

Polls are snapshots of highly fluid campaigns. In this case, there is a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; that means Obama could be ahead by as many as 8 points or down by as many as 6. There are many reasons why polls differ, including methods of estimating likely voters and the wording of questions.

Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin political science professor and polling authority, said variation between polls occurs, in part, because pollsters interview random samples of people.

"If they all agree, somebody would be doing something terribly wrong," he said of polls. But he also said that surveys generally fall within a few points of each other, adding, "When you get much beyond that, there's something to explain."

The AP-GfK survey included interviews with a nationally representative random sample totaling 1,101 adults, including 800 deemed likely to vote. For the entire sample, the survey showed Obama ahead 47 percent to 37 percent. He was up by five points among all registered voters, including the likely voters.

A significant number of the interviews were conducted by dialing a randomly selected sample of cell phone numbers, and thus this poll had a chance to reach voters who were excluded from some other polls.

It was taken over five days from Thursday through Monday, starting the night after the candidates' final debate and ending the day after former Secretary of State Colin Powell broke with the Republican Party to endorse Obama.

McCain's strong showing is partly attributable to his strong debate performance; Thursday was his best night of the survey. Obama's best night was Sunday, hours after the Powell announcement, and the full impact of that endorsement may not have been captured in any surveys yet. Future polling could show whether either of those was merely a support "bounce" or something more lasting.

During their final debate, a feisty McCain repeatedly forced Obama to defend his record, comments and associations. He also used the story of a voter whom the Democrat had met in Ohio, "Joe the plumber," to argue that Obama's tax plan would be bad for working class voters.

"I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody," Obama told the man with the last name of Wurzelbacher, who had asked Obama whether his plan to increase taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year would impede his ability to buy the plumbing company where he works.

On Wednesday, McCain's campaign unveiled a new TV ad that features that Obama quote, and shows different people saying: "I'm Joe the plumber." A man asks: "Obama wants my sweat to pay for his trillion dollars in new spending?"

Since McCain has seized on that line of argument, he has picked up support among white married people and non-college educated whites, the poll shows, while widening his advantage among white men. Black voters still overwhelmingly support Obama.

The Republican also has improved his rating for handling the economy and the financial crisis. Nearly half of likely voters think their taxes will rise under an Obama administration compared with a third who say McCain would raise their taxes.

Since the last AP-GfK survey in late September, McCain also has:

-Posted big gains among likely voters earning under $50,000 a year; he now trails Obama by just 4 percentage points compared with 26 earlier.

-Surged among rural voters; he has an 18-point advantage, up from 4.

-Doubled his advantage among whites who haven't finished college and now leads by 20 points. McCain and Obama are running about even among white college graduates, no change from earlier.

-Made modest gains among whites of both genders, now leading by 22 points among white men and by 7 among white women.

-Improved slightly among whites who are married, now with a 24-point lead.

-Narrowed a gap among unmarried whites, though he still trails by 8 points.

McCain has cut into Obama's advantage on the questions of whom voters trust to handle the economy and the financial crisis. On both, the Democrat now leads by just 6 points, compared with 15 in the previous survey.

Obama still has a larger advantage on other economic measures, with 44 percent saying they think the economy will have improved a year from now if he is elected compared with 34 percent for McCain.

Intensity has increased among McCain's supporters.

A month ago, Obama had more strong supporters than McCain did. Now, the number of excited supporters is about even.

Eight of 10 Democrats are supporting Obama, while nine in 10 Republicans are backing McCain. Independents are about evenly split.

Some 24 percent of likely voters were deemed still persuadable, meaning they were either undecided or said they might switch candidates. Those up-for-grabs voters came about equally from the three categories: undecideds, McCain supporters and Obama backers.

Said John Ormesher, 67, of Dandridge, Tenn.: "I've got respect for them but that's the extent of it. I don't have a whole lot of affinity toward either one of them. They're both part of the same political mess."

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  • by Red State Location: Washington Co. on Oct 24, 2008 at 08:45 AM
    Barbara, how right you are! I just posted on the article about Obama visiting his sick grandmother how ironic it is that his visit coincides with the review of the case questioning his citizenship in the Hawaii Suprmeme Court (suit filed by Democrat Andy Martin). Obama only visited his "typical white" grandmother for an hour when he went on vacation there during the primary, yet now during the most heated part of the general campaign, inarguably the most important two weeks of any presidential campaign, he suddenly has days to just hand over to McCain - because we know he can't trust Biden to carry the message for him.
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Oct 24, 2008 at 06:40 AM
    I think both of you hit it right on the nose. Obama has questionable background that would have put us out of the election a long time ago. The media ignores this absolutely, like they have a mutual agreement not to mention any of this. I watch Fox news to find out what is "really" going on. Liberals don't want these facts you presented even being mentioned. Fox brings this up almost every week. Now the polls. Some think they are heavily Obama from AP and other polls. The truth is most of it is leaning to Obama when truth is McCain is ahead in the swing states. Why, because they want us to think our state goes along with Obama. Well, most of us don't, this is why corruption has shown up at the polls. Liberals will do anything, say anything, change position on anything to get elected. Not buying those goods. This dem is voting for McCain since he at least is honest. This election is democratic party corruption. Vote McCain
  • by Joe Location: Kinston on Oct 24, 2008 at 05:54 AM
    A strong defense, hmm who was in charge in September 2001.Which President said, we will get Bin Laden dead or alive and didn't. His birth cert is now the issue.How about reading the news page on here and see how Elm city has lost jobs to-day.The stock market is down again.Oil production is being cut, so price of oil will go up.These are the real isues.Four yrs ago it was gay rights, now it is anything except what really matters.How many people who blog here will have jobs in January,how many are struggling to provide health care for their families.If you struggle now, wait till you see what will happen under McCain.Oh I forgot you all earn over $250,000 a yr and spend $150,000 on clothes in 6 weeks(paid for from donations,is that not a form of socialism).I know Obama earned 4 million last yrs but at least he said he is willing to pay more in taxes.Only the greedy don't want to pay more.
  • by Devil Dog Location: New Bern on Oct 24, 2008 at 04:43 AM
    To Barbara...The Democratic Party is not the same party it was in the 60's, but people fail to see it. YOUR party is a SOCIALIST Party that has used the poor as a stepping stone since 1964 to reach their goal. The REPUBLICAN Party is more like the Democratic Party of the 60's because it is for a strong defense and fiscal restraint. NO party today is for fiscal restraint, so I vote for the party who advocates a strong defense. You make a great point about his birth certificate, but the LIBERAL news media is in the tank for OBAMA. I would like to know where the overseas money is coming from to support his campaign. Where is his college transcripts? What you are witnessing is hardcore Chicago politics. ACORN and LaRAZA are subversive groups, gaining in size, that will destroy AMERICAN values. People better wake up real quick!
  • by Barbara Location: North Carolina on Oct 24, 2008 at 04:20 AM
    Obama should be replaced on the ballot unless he can produce an authentic copy of his birth certificate. A Democratic lawyer, Phillip J. Berg has filed a lawsuit in PA to force him to produce his birth certificate and he has refused to do so. If people knew about this the polls would really tighten. I hate to think what will happen if this story doesn't break before the election. As a Democrat I would like for this to be settled so that our party will not lose all the credibility it has. Everyone has a certified copy of their birth certificate. Why will he not produce his and end all of the speculation?
  • by Anonymous on Oct 23, 2008 at 07:47 PM
    Democrat for McCain.. Sounds like you already have your mind made up! For me, it is a clear choice. After all my research, the best person for ME, that represents MY values and MY ideals.. is Obama. Not to say that he is right for everybody. Nobody should have to convince you to vote a certain way. It is your choice. If your heart is telling you to vote for McCain, then do it. We all were raised in different places, with different values and ideals, by different parents, and different religions. My dad is a registered Democrat and he is voting McCain and there is no shame in that. There is never going to be one single candidate that we all agree on, and that is okay. Vote for the person that represents you. It doesn't matter your party affiliation or what other people tell you to believe. After all... we live in the United States of America and we have the freedom to vote for whoever we want... that's the beauty of democracy!
  • by Palinsux Location: All Over on Oct 23, 2008 at 07:05 PM
    Obama is NOT a Muslim, period. All of you neocons have to realize this and get over it. Where is that anarchist "Rob" when we need him?
  • by ...? on Oct 23, 2008 at 06:34 PM
    I'm so sick of hearing about the whole tax increase. Give me a break if you actually believe McCain is NOT going to raise taxes. In reality, I believe that it doesn't matter which candidate wins, taxes will increase in some way or another. And Obama 08 4 Prez! I totally agree w/u, I'll be so happy when the election is over as well!
  • by Democrat for Mccain on Oct 23, 2008 at 06:28 PM
    I am registered Democrat: Would Obama supports please tell me why I should vote Democrat!!! Maybe I am missing something, but I cannot honestly find one reason to vote for Obama.
  • by Top Dog on Oct 23, 2008 at 05:36 PM
    To Obama 08 4 Prez! and earthling, Do you remember when you were little and playing with another child.If that child did not do as you wanted them to you would call them names. Some of us even did that well into our teen years. That is the same thing people are doing on this blog. If they can't get you to vote republican, they call you names. To me it is so unbelievable to hear adults play the name calling game. I kind of wonder if they should even be voting.

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