Politics

About One in Four Voters Are “Swing Voters”

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Higher proportion than in 2004

PRINCETON, NJ -- According to the most recent USA Today/Gallup survey, 23% of likely voters can be considered "swing voters" -- including 6% who do not have a preference between Barack Obama and John McCain for president, and 17% who currently support either McCain or Obama but say they could change their minds between now and Election Day.

Obama's seven-point advantage over McCain among voters who have made up their minds (42% to 35%) is similar to the six-point advantage (50% to 44%) he enjoys among all likely voters in the June 15-19 poll.

This is Gallup's first measurement of swing voters in the U.S. electorate this election cycle. At no point in 2004 -- a year when swing voters were somewhat scarce from a historical perspective -- did Gallup find as high a proportion of swing voters as it finds today. The high mark in swing voters in 2004 was just 18% in May, and in the final pre-election poll, only 9% of likely voters had not made a firm candidate choice.

Who Are the Swing Voters?

In a typical election year, political independents and moderates are among those most likely to fall into the swing voter group. And that is the case as well this year.

In this year's election, it appears that swing voters are less likely to come from subgroups that show strong support for Obama, which is a positive sign for Obama. As shown in the accompanying graphs, liberals are the least likely of the ideological groups, and Democrats of the party affiliation groups, to fall into the swing voter group.

Additionally, only 12% of voters under age 30 are swing voters, compared with roughly a quarter of those aged 30 or older. Throughout the campaign, young adults have supported Obama overwhelmingly.

Also, white voters (26%) are more likely than nonwhites (18%) to be uncommitted at this point. Obama has typically held the support of more than 90% of blacks and 60% of Hispanics.

Swing Voters Tend to Like Both McCain and Obama

In general, swing voters seem to be positively disposed toward both candidates -- 50% have a favorable opinion of both McCain and Obama; only 11% view both negatively. By comparison, just one-quarter of committed voters have a positive opinion of both candidates.

In July 2004, just 25% of swing voters viewed both John Kerry and George W. Bush favorably, while 13% had negative opinions of both.

That indicates that in this election, swing voters are much more likely to choose between two appealing options rather than trying to pick "the lesser of two evils."

Implications

With a greater proportion of swing voters available in this year's presidential election than in 2004, the campaigns may not wish to follow the famous Bush 2004 strategy of concentrating resources on mobilizing existing supporters instead of persuading undecideds.

If the campaigns choose to devote a substantial share of resources to winning over uncommitted voters, they may find a receptive audience. Half of swing voters have a positive opinion of both Obama and McCain, far more than had a favorable image of both Bush and Kerry in 2004. The candidates' messages, choices of vice presidential running mates, and performance in the fall debates all have the potential to bring voters into their camps.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,310 likely voters, aged 18 and older, conducted June 15-19, 2008. 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.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

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.

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