Politics

Obama Maintaining Support Among Liberals

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Support may be increasing slightly

PRINCETON, NJ -- Barack Obama's support among political liberals has not declined in recent weeks, and shows evidence of a modest uptick. Currently, 82% of self-identified liberals (including 92% of liberals who identify themselves as Democrats) say they would vote for Obama rather than John McCain if the election were held today. His support from both groups is the highest to date in Gallup Poll Daily tracking.

Some on the political left have criticized Obama for his recent centrist-leaning positions on some issues, positions that appear to be a departure from what he advocated earlier in the campaign. For example, Obama previously said he would oppose legislation providing immunity to telecommunications companies that provided customer data to the federal government as part of its anti-terrorism efforts. But when an anti-terror bill came up last week that provided the companies with this type of immunity, he voted in favor of it. Also, Obama has said he may refine his position on the war in Iraq after he tours the country and meets with U.S. military leaders. Some took this as a signal he may be backing away from his call for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office, although Obama responded by reiterating his support for his withdrawal timetable.

Despite questions about his commitment to a "progressive" agenda, Gallup Poll Daily tracking data show that rank-and-file liberal Democrats are no less likely to support Obama now than they were earlier in the campaign.

Obama's performance among liberals compares favorably to that of his former Democratic nomination rival, Hillary Clinton, when she was still an active candidate. In March to June presidential trial heats matching Clinton against McCain, Clinton's support topped out at 81% among all liberals and 89% among liberal Democrats, both below where Obama currently stands.

Obama is not alone in receiving complaints about his issue positions from party ideologues. McCain, too, has been criticized by some prominent (conservative) Republican Party supporters for his past or present moderate positions on campaign finance reform, illegal immigration, and tax cuts. But as has been the case for Obama, this criticism has done little to faze the party rank-and-file, as McCain's support among conservative Republicans in the presidential trial heat versus Obama has always been very high and quite stable.

Currently, Obama and McCain do about equally well in attracting support from the most ideological supporters of their respective parties.

Implications

It is clear that any perceived shifts by Obama toward the middle on specific issues have not brought about a decline in support for him among the more ideological wing of his party.

There are many possible reasons for this. For example, a substantial number of liberals may not be aware of Obama's apparent movement toward the center. On the other hand, they may realize that it is common for presidential candidates to shift toward more moderate positions during a general-election campaign to build a winning electoral coalition.

Even though liberals who are upset with Obama's recent issue positions have other voting options this fall, including independent candidate Ralph Nader or Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney, they may not necessarily view those long-shot candidates as viable alternatives to Obama. As such, they may continue to back Obama despite some policy disagreements with him.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 6,151 national registered voters, aged 18 and older, conducted July 7-13, 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 ±1 percentage point.

For results based on the sample of 1,325 registered voters who identity their political views as liberal, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 1,128 Democratic registered voters who identity their political views as liberal, 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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