Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Big Ten Battleground

In honor of the second presidential debate tonight, take a look at this Big Ten Battle Ground Poll. It surveyed 600 residents of eight Midwestern states in the Big Ten Conference last month, and it’ll do another round in about two weeks. Other than Illinois, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s home turf, six states were statistically tied between Obama and his Republican opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain. Indiana was the only state that leaned toward McCain.

But that was three weeks ago. Things have changed in Obama’s favor, says Brian Gaines, political science professor with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Gaines is participating in the polling project with professors from seven other universities.

“In the last three weeks, there has been a pretty clear swing to Obama almost everywhere,” he says.

It comes down to economics. In tough times, voters tend to look to Democrats to get them out of it, he says. And the recent financial crisis that put Washington, D.C., on the hot seat put Obama in the driver’s seat.

Now, most Midwestern states are Obama’s to lose. But it’s not a shoo-in. The September results show that Obama had an advantage among Midwestern women, with double-digit leads over McCain in Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. McCain led in five states among Catholic voters, with large margins in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Economic pessimism and widespread angst that the country is going in the wrong direction resonates with white- and blue-collar voters. White-collar tended to lean to McCain, while more blue-collar participants said they supported Obama. The exception was Ohio, where analysts said Obama has to stem the deflection of Democrats who helped U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton win that state's Democratic primary.

While Ken Goldstein, co-director of the polling project and political science professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, said debates don’t normally get much credence in election results, Obama’s newness on the national scene gives voters the opportunity to see whether he lives up to the presidential image. Watch the video of the analysis here. The consensus was that these debates could be a huge factor in this election.

New Big Ten survey results will be available October 23.

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