Pew Poll Shows McCain Narrowing Gap The final Pew Research Center poll of the 2008 presidential election gives Barack Obama a 49 to 42 percent lead over his rival, John McCain. Though Obama still has a significant lead, it's suddenly a much tighter race than last week.
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Pew Poll Shows McCain Narrowing Gap

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Pew Poll Shows McCain Narrowing Gap

Pew Poll Shows McCain Narrowing Gap

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Now, to Andrew Kohut from the Pew Research Center. He's here with me in the studio with Pew's final poll before the big one on Tuesday. Andy, what do you see?

Mr. ANDREW KOHUT (President, Pew Research Center): The latest is we have 49 percent supporting Barack Obama or leaning to him, 42 percent to John McCain. This is based on a survey of 2,600 likely voters contacted by landline telephones and cell phones, as well.

SEABROOK: And that's a change from your last poll. It was 53-38, and now 49-42, so a real tightening.

Mr. KOHUT: It's narrowed a bit in the past week. There are two things going on. First of all, John McCain has made some gains among whites, and he's made some gains among independent voters. The other thing, McCain is enjoying the typical boost we get when we narrow the sample from all registered voters to likely voters because, while voter turnout seems to be up among young people and blacks, it's up across the board. So, the Republican voters who vote more regularly than Democrats seem to be pretty much in the game, as they've been in previous elections.

SEABROOK: So, is this a fundamental shift in the race, Andy?

Mr. KOHUT: Well, I don't think it's so much a fundamental shift because Obama still has a pretty sizeable lead, leads among many important groups. But it's certainly not the boxcar kind of lead that we had a week ago.

SEABROOK: Why are the polls - the polls seem to be converging across the polls towards a sort of five-point lead for Obama when they had been pretty disparate. There had been a lot of difference between them.

Mr. KOHUT: Well, the answer to that is that, the closer we get to the election, the more crystallized public opinion is, and therefore, the more likely it is when we make a telephone call, we're going to get the same answers as another polling organization will get because voters have made up their minds. There's not so many of, I'll vote for this guy one day. If you call me tomorrow, I'll vote for someone else.

So, it's pretty typical that the polls, the rigorous polls all come together in the final week. And this is a pretty substantial lead. We haven't had a lead for a candidate this substantial since 1996, when President Clinton was leading Senator Dole in the final weekend of the campaign.

SEABROOK: One of the things you measured in this poll is the strength of each candidate's support among those who say they will vote for that candidate. And that, you say, is a significant indicator of the outcome of the race?

Mr. KOHUT: Well, historically it's been. In this election, we have 36 percent strong Obama supporters, 13 percent soft Obama supporters. But McCain, his support is not quite as strong, only 24 percent strong, 18 percent soft. And typically, if we look back to elections going back to 1960, the candidate with the stronger support wins the election. For example, four years ago, President Bush had stronger support than John Kerry. In 1996, President Clinton had stronger support than Senator Dole. In '88, Bush had stronger support than Dukakis and so on. There are exceptions, but that's generally the case.

SEABROOK: And the infamous undecided voters, are they breaking one way the odds?

Mr. KOHUT: We see some inclination in the undecided voters to go a bit toward McCain. In fact, out final estimate of the popular vote, if the election were being held today, it would be 52 percent Obama, 46 percent McCain. And that's only a six-point margin, one percent voting for Bob Barr, and one percent voting for Ralph Nader, one of the third party candidates.

SEABROOK: How right were you this day four years ago about what would happen on election day?

Mr. KOHUT: Well, we had Bush up by three. He won by three. In 2000, we had Bush up by two. He lost by a half two or three quarters of a point. In '96, we had Clinton up, I think, by about two points more than he won by. Most of the established national polls do pretty well in presidential elections. And this is not to say that the election is over. You can't take the voters for granted, but let's put it this way. It's going to take quite a last-minute trend to up end what all of these polls are showing, but in an election where the unexpected is the expected, who knows?

SEABROOK: Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center. Thanks very much for coming in.

Mr. KOHUT: You're welcome.

SEABROOK: A correction now to an election story we aired last week. In Indiana's 9th Congressional District, Baron Hill and Mike Sodrel are facing off for the fourth time in a row. In the story, I said Hill was a lawyer. He's not. According to his online biography, he's actually a financial analyst and a long-time local office holder.

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