Updated Oct. 22, 2008
1. Democrats continue to have a "structural" election advantage in this election. Democrats have a double-digit lead in terms of party affiliation. Recent polls have shown Democrats with a substantial edge on generic ballots for Congress. Additionally, the incumbent Republican president now has the lowest job approval rating of his administration, one of the lowest in Gallup history. Voters want a change in leadership. Satisfaction with the way things are going in the country, now at 7%, is the lowest measured in Gallup's history, and satisfaction with the way the country is being governed is at a new low ebb. The Wall Street financial crisis has driven economic ratings to record lows. All of these remain negatives for the party currently holding the White House.
2. It is, therefore, not surprising that Barack Obama has held a significant lead over John McCain among registered voters in each Gallup Poll Daily tracking release since Gallup's Sept. 23-25 average, the longest such sustained lead of the campaign. After three debates, and with less than two weeks to go before the election, Obama continues to have the clear edge over John McCain.
3. Turnout will be a key factor. Obama would benefit from unusual (and unprecedented) enthusiasm among young voters and minority voters. McCain would benefit from a more typical higher turnout among Republicans, highly religious white voters. Results of likely voter modeling through the middle of October suggest that Obama is ahead regardless of turnout assumptions, although his lead over McCain is smaller if typical turnout patterns occur in the election. There is little evidence yet to suggest that young people are extraordinarily more interested in, or more likely to vote than in previous elections. Overall enthusiasm about the election is not unusually high, in part due to the fact that Republicans are significantly low in enthusiasm compared to Democrats.
4. The convention and vice presidential candidate selection "bounces" this year followed fairly typical and predictable patterns. Gallup analysis showed no bounce for Obama based on his selection of Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate, a modest four-point bounce for Obama as a result of his convention, a two-point bounce for McCain on the day of his selection of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate, and a six-point bounce for McCain as a result of his convention.
5. Gallup data now show that both Obama and McCain have majority favorable ratings from the American public, with Obama's slightly more favorable. Sarah Palin's unfavorable ratings have risen, and her overall image is much more negative than Joe Biden's. A majority of Americans say that Palin is not qualified to be president.
6. Pattern of candidate support is similar to 2000 and 2004 elections. Obama's strengths: non-white race and ethnic groups, including blacks and Hispanics; 18-29; those with postgraduate educations; women; those with very low incomes; those who have no religious identification/for whom religion is not important/do not attend church; those who are unmarried. McCain's strengths: non-Hispanic whites; 65 and older; those who are married; white Protestants and non-Catholic Christians; whites who attend church frequently/for whom religion is important.
7. Top voter issue this year is the economy. The relevance of the economy has intensified since Sept. 15 with the extraordinary crisis on Wall Street and deteriorating consumer confidence. Gas prices, Iraq, healthcare, and terrorism remain important, but are taking second seat to the economy. Obama's perceived strengths: domestic issues, compassion, empathy, bringing about change. McCain's perceived strengths: experience, international issues, terrorism, viewed as capable commander in chief. All in all, at least in the short term, Gallup data make it clear that the uptick in negativity about U.S. economic conditions has benefitted Obama.