Poll: Split Among Swing Voters Creates a Close Race

The presidential candidates face off in their second debate tomorrow with strong positions in their respective bases -- and even splits in classic swing voter groups.

Independents divide by 47-46 percent between John Kerry and George W. Bush in the latest ABC News tracking poll, white Catholics by 49-50 percent. These have been the quintessential swing voters in presidential elections, by dint of their size and shifting allegiances. The candidate who’s won independents and white Catholics has been elected president in every election since 1980, according to exit polls.

The overall race is similarly close, 49-47 percent between Bush and Kerry among likely voters, with one percent for Ralph Nader, in interviews conducted Monday through Wednesday nights. That’s the same as yesterday, when the race nudged tighter after a nearly month-long Bush lead. Kerry’s performance in last week’s debate consolidated his support, raising the stakes for their next debate, the second of three.

AGE -- Another potential factor in this year’s high-interest and high-registration contest is young voters. They are not terribly different: Among likely voters 18 to 29 years old, 49 percent support Kerry, 46 percent Bush. Turnout matters, with this group as with all, and young voters are much less likely than their elders to know their polling place (or alternatively to say they’ll vote absentee) -- raising questions about their appearance at the polls. There’s plenty of time, though, for them to learn where to vote.

Senior citizens, a traditionally engaged and active voter group, divide the same as young voters: Forty-nine percent for Kerry, 47 percent for Bush.

These findings are very similar to the exit poll results in 2000: Seniors chose Gore over Bush by 50-47 percent; young voters, by 48-46 percent. These were roughly the same size groups in 2000 turnout: Seniors accounted for 14 percent of all voters, young adults, 17 percent.

DIVIDED or CONQUERED -- Moveable voters, those who haven’t definitely made up their minds, make up 13 percent of likely voters, down from 19 percent two weeks ago. They’re also split, 45 percent for Bush, 42 percent for Kerry, four percent for Nader; one thing that distinguishes them is that, beyond those who say their minds are not made up, 10 percent of moveables remain undecided entirely.

But it’s not only moveables who divide; “definites,” those who say their minds are made up, split down the middle as well, 50-49 percent Bush-Kerry.

While men and women often are described en masse, there are divisions within their numbers. Bush does better with married men (55-41 percent) and married women (a closer 51-46 percent) alike; Kerry, better among unmarried men (52-42 percent) and unmarried women (56-41 percent). Demographic differences help explain these divisions; for example, unmarrieds include more blacks, the most loyal Democratic group.

As noted, both candidates are strong in their bases: Kerry is supported by 89 percent of Democrats; by 86 percent of blacks, a core Democratic group; and by 81 percent of liberals, who account for one in five voters. Bush is winning support from 90 percent of Republicans; 74 percent of evangelical white Protestants, a core Republican group; and 77 percent of conservatives, who account for about a third of all voters.


This poll was conducted by telephone Oct. 4-6 among a random national sample of 1,803 adults, including 1,498 registered voters and 1,167 likely voters. The results have a three-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.

Click here for PDF version with full questionnaire and results.

See previous analyses in our Poll Vault.