White House ’08: One poll shows fluidity in electorate

Story by Chris Graham

I was looking over a recent poll done by Sacred Heart University and had to do a double-take at the number of not-sures that was indicated in the poll. Sacred Heart had 22.3 percent of those surveyed saying that they would prefer to vote for “none of the above” in a race between Barack Obama, John McCain and none of the above. That’s a pretty big number, I said to Jerry Lindsley, the director of the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute.

“What that shows is it’s not solid yet,” Lindsley said, hitting on something that I’ve been picking up on in my casual conversations about the ’08 White House race. Which is that while the polls done by the folks at Gallup and Rasmussen and elsewhere have both candidates in the mid to upper 40s in terms of national support, leaving 10 percent or less of the electorate undecided, essentially, I’m sensing a lot more fluidity, particularly on the McCain side of the ledger.

The Sacred Heart polling bears that out. In the Sacred Heart data, Obama had a 37.8 percent-to-27 percent lead on McCain, with those 22.3 percent unsure and another 13 percent unsure. And GOP voters and conservative voters were more likely to say “none of the above” (19.2 percent and 23 percent, respectively) than Democratic voters and liberal voters (14. percent, 17.1 percent).

“There’s still a group of people out there who are not convinced that their particular party has nominated or is about to nominate the best of the best. And when we find 22.3 percent in a three-way race between Obama, McCain and none of the above said none of the above, 37.8 percent said Obama, and 27 percent chose McCain, it just shows there’s a weakness among the two candidates for their support that they’ll have to shore up over time,” Lindsley said.

“We had 44.8 percent who said they could be very likely, at 20, or somewhat likely, at 24.8 percent, to support a strong third-party candidate in November if one might emerge. The candidates have to be doing similar polling, and know that their support is there, but it’s not strong support, and their folks could bolt to someone else rather easily,” Lindsley said.

I’m hearing plenty of this kind of talk on the eve of the announcement of McCain’s VP nominee. One social-conservative friend told me this week that he would flat-out note vote for McCain if he taps someone like pro-choice Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge or even moderate-conservative former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. I’d have to assume that Democrats and independents thinking about going the McCain route might have similar issues should he nominate social-conservative former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee or social-conservative Virginia congressman Eric Cantor.

But back to the Sacred Heart poll here at the close. I’m glad to see something in terms of a data field that backs up my own feelings on the fluidity of the ’08 electorate, but I had to ask Lindsley why it is that his poll can register that when almost everybody else has us in a pair of rigidly defined corners.

“What a lot of pollsters are doing, and we’re guilty of it, too, is we’re not offering other options. The choice is Obama or McCain, and that’s it. And that’s what they do – they say, OK, you’re undecided, who are you leaning towards, and then they throw those people into the McCain column or the Barack Obama column,” Lindsley said. “Here for the first time in a while, a pollster comes along and says, OK, you have a third option, none of the above, in addition to don’t know. And it gets you thinking, I always wanted to vote for Condoleezza Rice. McCain is my third choice, I’ll end up voting for him, probably, but here’s a pollster who’s giving me the choice to voice my view that, no, McCain or Obama wasn’t my first choice.”

I think I get that.

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