Poll: Nearly 1 in 10 Has Already Cast Vote

While the 2004 election is locked in a virtual dead heat, for nearly one in 10 likely voters it's all over but the counting: They've already cast their ballots.

Nine percent of "likely" voters in the ABC News tracking poll say they've voted for president, either by absentee ballot or early voting, a number that's jumped in the last week. Fifty-one percent say they went for George W. Bush, 47 percent for John Kerry.

That doesn't mean Bush is "winning" the absentee vote; the difference is within sampling tolerances. And among all likely voters, including those waiting for Election Day, the race is essentially tied: Forty-nine percent support Kerry and 48 percent Bush, with 1 percent for Ralph Nader in interviews Friday through Monday.

Sampling, data collection and tabulation for this poll were done by TNS.

That's the same as Monday's tracking result. The race tightened slightly from last week because Saturday and Sunday were two of Kerry's three best days since this tracking poll began Oct. 1; Monday, though, was a bit better for Bush. Tracking polls average results across days to build a reliable sample.

Early Birds

There's been a recent jump in early voting: The number of registered voters who say they've already voted has risen from 1 percent in the first three weeks of ABC's tracking poll, through last Thursday, to 7 percent now. It reaches 9 percent when computed among the ranks of likely voters only.

Early voting is more prevalent in the West than in other regions. (Oregon is one reason -- all voting there is by mail -- and there's high absentee voting in several other Western states.) Early voters are more likely to be older, women and following the race very closely. They're also a bit more likely to be Republicans than Democrats.

As with any small subgroup, there's greater sampling variability in data on early voters. Given the increased opportunities for early voting in many states, they bear watching as their ranks grow in the coming days.

Movables

Movable voters, those who say their minds aren't definitely made up, are another group to watch. This group is down to 9 percent of all likely voters, compared with 14 percent at the start of tracking, and movables divide by 42 percent to 41 percent between Bush and Kerry in this poll.

Bush did as well or better with movables last week; they move, and still can. And an open question is how many of them actually will vote: Movables are following the campaign much less closely than other likely voters (32 percent "very closely," compared with 66 percent among those who've got a definite preference). That suggests less commitment to the process among movables.

Referendum

Incumbent elections often are described as a referendum on the sitting president, which helps explain the close race. Precisely as they divide on the horse race, likely voters split 48 percent to 49 percent on whether Bush does or doesn't deserve a second term.

That view is highly partisan, marked by the same sharp divisions as vote preferences. Ninety percent of Republicans say Bush deserves a second term; 86 percent of Democrats (and 52 percent of independents) say he does not. Fifty-five percent of whites say he's earned another term, but 76 percent of minorities say not. Nearly three-quarters of evangelical white Protestants say yes; two-thirds of the nonreligious, no.

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