University Park, Pa. --- With concerns about the nation’s worsening economy and the possible wrong direction of the country and the state, Pennsylvania residents are locked in a statistical dead heat between president candidates John McCain and Barack Obama, along with six other Midwest states, according to the inaugural Big Ten Battleground Poll.
The individual surveys of 600 randomly selected registered voters in each of the states were conducted by phone from Sept. 14-17 and were co-directed by University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientists Charles Franklin and Ken Goldstein and researchers at the participating universities.
The states included in the poll were Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota. In seven of the eight Midwest states surveyed, Obama and McCain were in a statistical dead heat, except for Illinois, Obama’s home state. The margin of error for the state polls was 4 percentage points.
According to the poll, 45 percent of the Pennsylvania residents in the survey (decided and undecided) said they leaned toward Obama/Biden; 44.6 percent toward McCain/Palin. However, nearly 10 percent were undecided or did not respond.
“Obviously, questions about the direction of the U.S. and the state, and the economy are key issues on the minds of Pennsylvania voters,” said Michael Berkman, Penn State professor of political science and a Big Ten poll adviser.
Pennsylvania respondents were asked how they felt about the nation's economy, specifically. "Would you say that over the past year the nation’s economy has gotten better, stayed the same or gotten worse?" In the nation, only about 3.5 percent said it had gotten better and 11.6 percent said it was about the same. Four out of five (83.5 percent) said it was doing worse than a year ago.
"Thinking about things in the U.S.," respondents were asked, "do you think things are generally going in the right direction, or do you feel things have gotten off on the wrong track?" Overall, 73.5 percent feel the country is on the wrong track, while only 19 percent of those surveyed feel the U.S. is moving in the right direction.
Specifically when asked about Pennsylvania, 53.5 percent of the respondents feel that things have gotten off on the wrong track, compared with nearly 36 percent choosing the right direction. Nearly 11 percent didn’t know or didn’t respond.
"In Pennsylvania, people feel that Obama would be better than McCain at bringing about change (51 percent to 31 percent)," said Berkman, the author of several books on U.S. politics and policies. "The vast majority of people said that the term 'experienced' better describes McCain than Obama (75 percent to 17 percent).
Analyzing the data even further, the Penn State political scientist noted that independents are reporting 44 percent for McCain, compared with 40 percent for Obama, but 17 percent are still undecided.
“But,” Berkman added, “it does appear that both parties are successfully appealing to their own members.” For example, 76 percent of Hillary Clinton’s supporters in the primary say they intend to vote for Obama.
And despite widely held concerns that women in Pennsylvania would be swayed by the selection of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Democratic candidate Obama is having more difficulties with men. Obama has a 12 point edge over McCain among women but an almost equal deficit among men.
“In another category important to the final vote in Pennsylvania and of concern to the Obama campaign, respondents who identified themselves as Catholics leaned toward McCain (51 percent), compared with Obama (37 percent),” said the Penn State researcher.
Berkman added that the Obama campaign hopes the choice of Scranton native Joe Biden, who is Catholic, will help with this group of voters.
When asked about the war in Iraq, more than half of the Pennsylvania respondents surveyed (50 percent) said that in their view, the most responsible thing to do is set a firm deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops within the next 16 months — basically the position taken by Obama. This compares to 45.2 percent who said that the most responsible thing to do is to remain in Iraq until the situation in the country stabilizes — McCain's position.
Another question asked about personal feelings about abortion. About 27 percent of Pennsylvanians each chose “permitted in all cases” and “permitted only in cases such as rape, incest, to save the woman’s life.” Seventeen percent chose “permitted but with greater restrictions,” and 16 percent chose “only permitted to save the woman’s life.” Only 5.1 percent said “never.”
The Big Ten Battleground Poll will be repeated in mid-October, with the results presented in another installment of the show on the Big Ten Network. For more details about the poll, including a list of poll contacts at each of the participating universities, visit http://www.bigtenpoll.org.