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For Obama’s Voters, It’s Change; for McCain’s, Experience

For Obama’s Voters, It’s Change; for McCain’s, Experience

PRINCETON, NJ -- Despite John McCain's recent efforts to adopt the "change" positioning that has been central to Barack Obama's campaign strategy for much of the year, new Gallup Poll data show only 3% of McCain supporters volunteering that they are voting for the Republican nominee because of his ability to bring about change. Thirty-seven percent of Obama's supporters give "change" as the reason for their support. McCain supporters are most likely to explain their vote with references to McCain's experience and qualifications.


In a Sept. 8-11 poll, Gallup asked voters to cite the main reasons they support their preferred presidential candidate. The open-ended question, asked as a follow-up to the basic ballot question, reads: "What would you say are the one or two most important reasons why you would vote for (John McCain/Barack Obama)?"

It is clear that the "change" mantra has resonated with Obama supporters. Thirty-seven percent of his supporters cite "change" as the reason for their support, by far the largest single response category for his voters.

Other reasons given by those supporting Obama include his economic plan/ability to handle the economy, general agreement with his values or issues, the respondent's propensity to vote Democratic, Obama's support for the working and middle classes, his plan for the Iraq war, and his honesty.

These themes in general appear to reflect the dominant thrusts of the Obama campaign: change, fixing the economy, helping the working and middle classes, and Iraq.

Only 3% of McCain's supporters say they are supporting him because of his ability to bring about change. (Another 4% mention that McCain is a maverick and goes against his own party.) The current data were collected Monday through Thursday, Sept. 8-11, well after the Republican National Convention, at which McCain emphasized change, including his acceptance speech statement that "We need to change the way government does almost everything." In fact, 10% of McCain's supporters in this poll say they are planning on voting for McCain because of his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, suggesting that events occurring in and around the convention in general are reflected in voters' views in the current poll. Yet, there is little indication that McCain's supporters have adopted the change theme as their stated reason for supporting him.

Instead, the dominant reasons given by McCain's supporters focus first and foremost on the experience dimension, named by 27%. That's followed by 18% who mention McCain's ability to handle terrorism and national security. Other categories of reasons for supporting McCain include his honesty, his choice of a vice-presidential running mate (as noted above), the fact that the respondent always votes Republican, and McCain's military background and service to his country.

These themes, as is the case for Obama, echo McCain's general campaign positioning this year -- with the exception of the McCain campaign's recent emphasis on change.


  1. Not surprisingly, when asked why they are supporting a candidate, supporters tend to feed back the basic positioning themes that the candidates' campaigns have developed and that the candidates have delivered in interviews, speeches, and campaign commercials throughout the year.
  2. But McCain's recent emphasis on change as one of his dominant campaign positions has not yet been reflected to any substantial degree in the reasons McCain's supporters give for voting for him.
  3. McCain's surprise selection of Palin as his vice-presidential running mate has apparently had a direct impact on some of his supporters, 1 out of 10 of whom volunteer his choice of her as their reason for supporting him. By way of contrast, only a small fraction of Obama supporters mention the choice of Joe Biden as their reason for supporting Obama.
  4. In a broad sense, the explanations given for voting for the two candidates reflect the domestic (Democratic)/international (Republicans) divide seen in recent years in the positioning of the two parties in Americans' eyes, although some Obama supporters do say their reason for voting for Obama results from his position on the Iraq war.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,007 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 8-11, 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 ±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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