Politics

Analysis of Support for Barack Obama

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Blacks, young are among strongest supporters

PRINCETON, NJ -- About a year ago, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama made known his intentions to run for president in the 2008 election. His showing thus far has not met the high expectations many had held for the young and charismatic senator. Though he has consistently placed second in Democratic nomination test ballots, his levels of support have been pretty flat since he entered the race. Based on his favorable ratings among all Americans, he rates as one of the most (if not the most) popular presidential candidates. Blacks and young adults rank among his greatest supporters, both in the country at large and within Democratic ranks.

 

Opinions of Obama

 

Over the past two months, Obama has averaged a 53% favorable rating and a 30% unfavorable rating across four Gallup Polls. Seventeen percent still are not familiar enough with Obama to offer an opinion of him. His favorable rating edges out those of Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani as the highest among the leading presidential candidates of both parties. But on a relative basis, his +23 net favorable rating (% favorable – % unfavorable) is the best.

 

Clinton -- currently the comfortable front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination -- has just a +5 net favorable score given that her relatively strong favorable is offset by the highest unfavorable ratings of any candidate.

 

Favorable Ratings of Leading Presidential Candidates,
Combined September-October Gallup Polls

 

Candidate

% Favorable

% Unfavorable

% No opinion

Net Favorable

 

 

 

 

pct. pts.

Obama

53

30

17

+23

Giuliani

52

34

14

+18

Clinton

51

46

4

+5

Edwards

49

33

18

+16

McCain

48

34

18

+14

Thompson

35

24

41

+11

Romney

27

31

42

–4

 

Usually, presidential candidates see their unfavorable ratings climb over the course of the campaign, as they become clearly identified with one party or the other in Americans’ minds. That dynamic applies to Obama as well, who has seen his unfavorable score rise from 18% in March to 32% in the most recent poll, with most of that increase coming among Republicans.

 

Obama’s initial 42% favorable rating from last December quickly increased to 58% by early March, before falling back to the low 50s in late March. It has been in the high 40% to mid-50%  range since that time.

 

 

Within his own party, though, Obama does not rate as positively as Clinton, and not much more positively than John Edwards. Obama’s deficit to Clinton on this measure is a key weakness in his quest for the party’s nomination.

 

Favorable Ratings of Leading Presidential Candidates
Among Democrats and Democratic Leaners,
Combined September-October Gallup Polls

 

Candidate

% Favorable

% Unfavorable

% No opinion

Net Favorable

 

 

 

 

pct. pts.

Clinton

78

19

3

+59

Obama

67

18

14

+49

Edwards

64

19

17

+45

 

Even so, Democrats, as would be expected, are one of the groups that have the most positive ratings of Obama. His other core support groups -- all of which have net favorable ratings in excess of +30 -- include blacks, college graduates, and young adults, in particular young women. (Obama’s ratings among all major subgroups are displayed at the end of the article.)

 

Subgroups With Most Positive Views of Barack Obama
 by Net Favorable Ratings,
Based on All Americans

 

Subgroup

% Favorable

% Unfavorable

% No opinion

Net Favorable

 

 

 

 

 

Black

71

10

19

+61

Liberal

71

14

15

+57

Democrat (w/leaners)

67

18

14

+49

College graduate

65

26

9

+39

Moderate

58

24

18

+34

Female, 18 to 49 years old

55

23

22

+32

18 to 34 years old

55

23

22

+32

$75,000 or more household income

61

30

8

+31

 

Obama’s Support for the Democratic Nomination

 

At this point, Obama’s standing in the Democratic nomination race is most relevant to gauging his presidential fortunes, and those fortunes may be beginning to turn downward. In the most recent USA Today/Gallup poll election update, 21% of Democrats supported Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, one of his worst showings to date. His current 29-point deficit to Clinton on the national test ballot is the largest he has faced. His support has been in the 25% range since late June, and has reached the 30% level only once this year.

 

 

Given that Clinton has such a commanding lead, it is no surprise that she leads Obama among all major Democratic subgroups, according to combined data from the four most recent Gallup election surveys, conducted in September and October. Obama’s support averaged 24% among all Democrats across these surveys.

 

Several of the groups within the general population that view Obama most favorably also are among the Democratic constituencies most likely to name Obama as their No. 1 choice for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

 

On a relative basis, Obama’s strongest showing is among black Democrats -- 40% favor him for the nomination, but he still trails Clinton by nine points among this group.

 

Obama’s support also skews toward younger Democrats -- 35% of those aged 18 to 34 favor him for the nomination, compared with 25% of 35- to 54-year-olds, and only 15% of Democrats aged 55 and older.

 

In addition to blacks and young Democrats, Obama fares better among Democrats in the Midwest, younger males, and those with children under 18.

 

Support for Barack Obama for Democratic Presidential Nomination, by Subgroup,
Based on Democrats and Democratic Leaners,
Combined September-October Gallup Polls

 

Subgroup

Obama

Clinton

 

%

%

All Democrats/Democratic leaners

24

48

 

 

 

Men

27

41

Women

22

52

 

 

 

White

20

48

Black

40

49

 

 

 

18 to 34 years old

35

45

35 to 54 years old

25

47

55 years and older

15

50

 

 

 

East

19

53

Midwest

30

44

South

23

51

West

26

41

 

 

 

Urban

23

52

Suburban

27

44

Rural

20

52

 

 

 

College grad

27

41

Not a college grad

23

50

 

 

 

Male, 18 to 49

35

39

Male, 50+

17

44

Female, 18 to 49

27

54

Female, 50+

17

52

 

 

 

Less than $30,000

21

56

$30,000 to less than $75,000

25

48

$75,000 or more

29

40

 

 

 

Attend church weekly

23

48

Attend nearly weekly/monthly

27

45

Seldom/never attend

23

48

 

 

 

Liberal

28

48

Moderate

24

46

Conservative

19

50

 

 

 

Married

25

44

Not married

24

51

 

 

 

Married men

25

39

Unmarried men

29

44

Married women

24

48

Unmarried women

21

55

 

 

 

Children under 18

31

46

No children under 18

20

51

 

Implications

 

Obama and his Democratic rivals have their work cut out for them in trying to defeat Clinton for the Democratic nomination. The fact that Clinton leads not only among Democrats nationwide but also among every key Democratic subgroup makes targeting one’s campaign efforts a challenge. Obama’s relatively strong appeal to black and young Democrats is somewhat of a double-edged sword, because those groups are usually among the least likely to turn out to vote. But Obama’s ability to inspire people may help him capitalize on his strengths among these groups. His relatively weak support among older Democrats (and older Americans) is somewhat of a liability, because this is one of the groups most likely to vote.

 

Should Obama survive the Democratic primaries, he may be fairly well positioned to win the presidency, given his relatively high favorable ratings and a political environment that currently advantages the Democratic Party.

 

Survey Methods

 

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,009 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 12-14, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

 

For results based on the 4,057 combined interviews of national adults aged 18+ from Gallup Polls conducted Sept. 7-8, Sept. 14-16, Oct. 4-7, and Oct. 12-14, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.

 

For results based on the 2,019 combined interviews of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents from Gallup Polls conducted Sept. 7-8, Sept. 14-16, Oct. 4-7, and Oct. 12-14, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

 

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

 

Barack Obama Favorable Ratings by Subgroup,
Based on All Americans

 

Subgroup

Favor-
able

Unfavor-
able

No opinion

Net Favorable (% Favorable – % Unfavorable)

 

%

%

%

%

All Americans

53

30

17

+23

 

 

 

 

 

Democrat

68

19

14

+49

Independent

52

28

20

+24

Republican

36

47

17

–11

Democrat (w/leaners)

67

18

14

+49

Republican (w/leaners)

36

47

17

-11

 

 

 

 

 

Men

50

34

16

+16

Women

55

26

19

+29

 

 

 

 

 

White

50

33

17

+17

Black

71

10

19

+61

 

 

 

 

 

18 to 34 years old

55

23

22

+32

35 to 54 years old

54

29

16

+25

55 years and older

49

36

15

+13

 

 

 

 

 

East

57

27

16

+30

Midwest

55

25

19

+30

South

48

35

17

+13

West

53

30

18

+23

 

 

 

 

 

Urban

56

27

16

+29

Suburban

55

30

15

+25

Rural

42

33

25

+9

 

 

 

 

 

College grad

65

26

9

+39

Not a college grad

47

32

21

+15

 

 

 

 

 

Male, 18 to 49

53

30

17

+23

Male, 50+

47

38

14

+9

Female, 18 to 49

55

23

22

+32

Female, 50+

54

30

16

+24

 

 

 

 

 

Less than $30,000

46

26

27

+20

$30,000-less than $75,000

52

31

17

+21

$75,000 or more

61

30

8

+31

 

 

 

 

 

Attend church weekly

48

35

17

+13

Attend nearly weekly/monthly

55

28

17

+27

Seldom/never attend

55

28

17

+27

 

 

 

 

 

Liberal

71

14

15

+57

Moderate

58

24

18

+34

Conservative

36

47

17

–11

 

 

 

 

 

Liberal Democrat

76

12

11

+64

Moderate Democrat

67

18

16

+49

Conservative Democrat

51

31

17

+20

Pure independent

43

24

34

+19

Moderate or Liberal Republican

48

31

21

+17

Conservative Republican

29

56

15

–27

 

 

 

 

 

Married

51

34

15

+17

Not married

54

25

21

+29

 

 

 

 

 

Married men

48

39

12

+9

Unmarried men

54

25

21

+29

Married women

55

28

17

+27

Unmarried women

55

25

20

+30

 

 

 

 

 

Children under 18

52

28

21

+24

No children under 18

55

30

15

+25

 

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