Poll: Nearly 1 in 10 Has Already Cast Vote

9 Percent of Likely Voters Have Voted Via Absentee Ballot or Early Voting

Analysis
By GARY LANGER

Oct. 26, 2004--

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.

The "deserves re-election" number for Bush is down from 54 percent after his convention, when he was at a peak. The race, like the answer to this question, has tightened since.

Whatever the outcome of the election, such results underscore the difficulty Bush has had -- and perhaps any president might encounter in this polarized electorate -- achieving his goal of being "a uniter, not a divider."

Issues and Groups

Issue priorities are holding steady, with a close division among the top three: the economy, cited by 24 percent of likely voters as most important in their vote; the war in Iraq, 22 percent; and terrorism, 21 percent.

Terrorism, Bush's best issue, peaked higher, at 28 percent, after his convention. Kerry's been trying, with some success, to drive it down and other issues up in importance, a critically important factor in this competitive race.

Among groups, there's a sharp regional difference in vote preferences: Kerry ahead by 56 percent to 41 percent in his home region, the Northeast, and by 54 percent to 45 percent in the West. It's a 52 percent-46 percent Bush-Kerry race in the most populous region, the South, and a 50 percent-46 percent Bush-Kerry contest in the Midwest. The biggest difference from 2000 is the West, better at the moment for Kerry than it was for Al Gore.

Kerry continues to be strong in core Democratic groups, Bush in the Republican base, with an unusual split in the two major swing groups: Independents, now 51 percent-44 percent Kerry-Bush, and white Catholics, 52 percent-44 percent Bush-Kerry. In exit polls since 1980, these two groups have sided with the same candidate, and he's won the presidency.

Religion, or the lack thereof, has its customarily strong influence. Apart from white Catholics, the most centrist large religious group, white Protestants prefer Bush by 30 points, 64 percent to 34 percent; that includes evangelical white Protestants, by a wider 71 percent to 28 percent, and non-evangelical white Protestants by 57 percent to 41 percent. People who profess no religion, 12 percent of likely voters, favor Kerry by 67 percent to 31 percent.

Methodology

This poll was conducted Oct. 22-25 among a random national sample of 2,414 adults, including 2,084 registered voters and 1,666 likely voters. The results have a 2.5-point error margin for the likely voter sample. ABC News and The Washington Post are sharing data collection for this tracking poll, then independently applying their own models to arrive at likely voter estimates. Sampling, data collection and tabulation were done by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

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