Attack Blowback

Oct 12, 2008 6:02pm

The McCain campaign’s more aggressive tone is prompting pushback from the public: Registered voters by a broad margin now believe John McCain is more focused on attacking his opponent than on addressing the issues in the 2008 presidential election.

Barack Obama, by contrast, is perceived even more widely as sticking to the issues, this new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds – a striking point of differentiation between the two. More differences will be reported in the full release of this ABC/Post poll on at 12:01 a.m. and Good Morning America on Monday morning.

While McCain’s image as the more negative of the two is not new, it’s sharpened considerably, coinciding with his campaign’s more pointed criticisms of Obama in the last few weeks, including Sarah Palin's accusation that Obama’s been "palling around with terrorists."

Registered voters by a 24-point margin, 59-35 percent, now say McCain is more focused on attacking his opponent rather than addressing the issues. That’s grown from a roughly even 48-45 percent split on this question in late August.

There's far less criticism of the tone of Obama's campaign: Registered voters by 68-26 percent say he's mainly addressing the issues, not attacking his opponent, a slightly more positive rating than in August.

              Candidate is mainly:            Addressing    Attacking             the issues   his opponent Now:  McCain        35%           59  Obama         68            26

8/22:  McCain        45%           48  Obama         64            29 

PARTISAN – It’s noteworthy that Republicans, despite their general antipathy toward Obama, don't broadly see him as running a negative campaign; they divide essentially evenly on the question, 44-46 percent. Democrats, by contrast, overwhelmingly say McCain's going negative, 80-16 percent.

The deciding factor, as ever in presidential politics, is independents. They see McCain as mainly attacking his opponent, by 61-33 percent, but Obama as mainly addressing the issues, by 68 -26 percent.

                 Obama is mainly:                    Addressing    Attacking                the issues   his opponent Democrats        87%          12Independents     68           26Republicans      46           44

                 McCain is mainly:                    Addressing    Attacking                the issues   his opponent Democrats        16%          80Independents     33           61Republicans      62           32

GROUPS – Nearly 9 in 10 African-Americans say McCain’s been attacking Obama more than addressing the issues, but likely of greater concern to McCain’s campaign is that 54 percent of whites say so as well. So do a majority of men (57 percent), as well as six in 10 women and nearly two-thirds of moderates.

Among swing voter groups, beyond independents, 58 percent of white Catholics and 59 percent of married women alike say McCain’s been mainly attacking his opponent rather than addressing the issues. So do 56 percent of non-evangelical white Protestants and 57 percent of veterans, a natural affinity group for McCain.

Far fewer in any of these groups say Obama’s been mainly on the attack – a quarter of men and women alike, including married women; fewer than three in 10 whites, white Catholics and non-evangelical white Protestants; two in 10 moderates; and a quarter of veterans. Even among core McCain groups such as conservatives and evangelical white Protestants, more say Obama is mainly addressing the issues than attacking his opponent.

For McCain, finally, among the biggest changes is the result among onetime supporters of Hillary Clinton against Obama – the sought-after Clinton Democrats. In August 59 percent in this group said McCain was mainly attacking Obama, not addressing the issues. Today, 74 percent of Clinton Democrats say so.

Click here for a pdf with details. These results are from a detailed new ABC/Post poll on the election and the mood of the country; for full results check back online at 12:01 a.m., and tomorrow morning on Good Morning America.

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