Barack Obama's strong close in the 2008 campaign has been boosted by more than the shell-shocked economy and the Bush legacy. There's also Sarah Palin, and the concern she incites, especially among voters who are worried about John McCain's age.
Forty-six percent of likely voters now say having Palin on the ticket makes them less likely to support McCain -- up 14 points in just the past month and more than double what it was in early September. And among those who call the candidates' age an important factor in their vote, more, 61 percent, say Palin makes them less likely to back McCain.
Age in and of itself is a negative for McCain; 48 percent call it an important factor, and 71 percent of them prefer his opponent. Far fewer, by contrast, describe Obama's race as an important factor in their vote, and those who do so are no less likely to support him.
But there is a racial difference: Among whites who call race an important factor, Obama does less well; among nonwhites who call race important, Obama soars.
As reported Sunday night, Obama retains the overall lead in this ABC News/Washington Post poll, 54-43 percent among likely voters interviewed Wednesday through Saturday. Support for the candidates has run in a narrow band for weeks, with Obama at 52 to 54 percent in every ABC/Post poll since Oct. 11, McCain between 43 and 45 percent in that same period.
Other elements in this poll include a look at the level of final-week get-out-the-vote contacts, the extent of lobbying by family/friends, and an excitement/fear measure: No more likely voters are "scared" about the possibility of either Obama or McCain as president, and twice as many are "excited" about the prospect of Obama.
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GOTV – There's been an extraordinary level of contacts by both campaigns, with a small advantage to Obama nationally but parity between the two in battleground and toss-up states. Overall, 26 percent of likely voters say they've been contacted directly by the Obama campaign, 21 percent by the McCain side -- tens of millions of personal contacts by both campaigns, either in person or by phone, e-mail or text message.
Contacts are higher in the 18 battleground states and five-toss-up states (Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Missouri and Indiana) as identified by the ABC News Political Unit. McCain campaign contacts are reported by 35 percent in the battlegrounds and 38 percent in the toss-ups; Obama contacts, by 37 percent in both.
What matters, though, is not just the number of contacts but their targeting and/or effectiveness. There Obama has a very large advantage nationally: Among likely voters who report a contact by the Obama campaign 72 percent support him, while among those who report a McCain contact, 54 percent support the Republican.
This gap is narrower, however, in the battleground states: There Obama's supported by 66 percent of those who've been contacted by his campaign, and McCain's supported by 58 percent of those who've heard from him.
FRIENDS/FAMILY – A corollary to campaign contacts is lobbying by family and friends, and there Obama also has an advantage. Thirty-one percent of likely voters say a family member or friend has asked them to support Obama; fewer, 22 percent, say the same about McCain. Nationally, those lobbied about Obama support him by 73-24 percent; those lobbied about McCain support him by a narrower (but still wide) 62-36 percent.
There are some differences among groups, fitting the candidates' support profiles. Fifty-eight percent of African-Americans, 45 percent of voters under age 30 and 42 percent of Democrats say a friend or family member has asked them to support Obama. For McCain, such appeals have peaked among Republicans, 35 percent; evangelical white Protestants, 29 percent; and conservatives, also 29 percent.
Thirty percent of independents and 36 percent of political moderates say someone close has asked them to support Obama, outnumbering the 23 and 20 percent, respectively, who've been approached by a friend or family member on behalf of McCain.
EXCITED/SCARED – Twenty-two percent of likely voters say they're "scared" by the prospect of an Obama presidency, essentially equal to the number who are scared by the idea of McCain as president, 23 percent. Naturally these views are highly partisan and ideological.
It's the opposite emotion that underscores Obama's longstanding advantage over McCain in enthusiasm. Thirty-five percent of likely voters say they're "excited" by the idea of an Obama presidency. Half as many, 17 percent, are excited about McCain as president.
RACE – As noted, while 48 percent call McCain's age an important factor in their vote, fewer, 21 percent, call Obama's race an important issue. That is up from 15 percent in a Sept. 22 poll; the rise has occurred disproportionately among African-Americans. Now 40 percent of blacks call race an important factor, as do 18 percent of whites.
Overall, likely voters who call race important support Obama over McCain by 58-42 percent. But there's a difference by race. Whites who call race a factor favor McCain by 62-38 percent. Nonwhites who call it a factor prefer Obama, almost unanimously.
This, of course, leaves aside the vast majority of likely voters, 79 percent, who say race is not a factor in their vote. They support Obama over McCain by 54-43 percent, precisely the same as his support among all likely voters in this survey.
ISSUES/GROUPS – As noted in a separate analysis last night, Obama's being boosted chiefly by his advantage on the economy, but he also continues to lead on taxes and remains competitive with McCain in trust to handle a crisis – cutting to the experience question that has been Obama's greatest risk.
The economy is far and away the top voting issue, and Obama leads McCain by 55-40 percent in trust to handle it. Obama's also held a steady lead, now 52-41 percent, in trust to handle taxes, a chief target of McCain's.
On experience, 56 percent see Obama as a "safe" choice for president, despite McCain's suggestions to the opposite. Slightly fewer, 51 percent, see McCain as a safe choice.
Among groups, Obama's 54 percent support among men is his best this year, as his 46 percent among white men, customarily a more Republican voting group. In these and many other groups, Obama's support is markedly higher among those who cite the economy as the top issue in their vote, underscoring its strength in vote choices this year.
Part of Obama's advantage comes from his campaign's ability to turn out early voters; 27 percent say they've already cast their ballots, a strongly pro-Obama group, 59-40 percent. Among first-time voters, moreover, Obama has a nearly 2-1 advantage.
METHODOLOGY: Interviews for this ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll were conducted by telephone Oct. 29 - Nov. 1, 2008, among a random national sample of 2,172 likely voters, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a 2-point error margin for the full sample. Questions 21 and 42 through 44 were asked Oct. 31-Nov. 1 among 1,248 likely voters; those results have a 3-point error margin. Question 45 was asked Nov. 1 among 618 likely voters; that result has a 4-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, PA.