PRINCETON, NJ -- Barack Obama (61%) and John McCain (57%) each received favorable ratings near 60% among likely voters in the most recent USA Today/Gallup poll. Both presidential candidates have been near that mark throughout 2008.
Gallup has measured presidential candidate favorability in its current format for the last five election cycles, beginning with the 1992 election. Usually, by this late stage of the campaign, presidential candidates' ratings have settled in the 50% range. George W. Bush had the highest favorable rating at the end of the campaign for any president since 1992, at 58% just before the 2000 election.
Thus, if Obama and McCain can maintain their most recent favorable ratings, they would finish the 2008 campaign among the top three most positively rated presidential candidates in recent memory. Either could become the first with a rating of 60% or higher. Obama may be the better bet to achieve this, as his favorable rating has been 60% or higher since he clinched the Democratic nomination in June, apart from a slight dip to 57% immediately after the Republican National Convention in early September.
Whether McCain and Obama can maintain their lofty scores between now and Nov. 4 is unclear. Historically, candidates' ratings have not varied much from their October average to the final poll before the election. Any variation that has occurred in the final weeks of the campaign has been inconsistent -- some have shown a decline, and others, an increase.
For example, Bush's high 58% rating at the end of the 2000 campaign represented a drop from what he had been averaging in October 2000 (62%). Bob Dole's favorable rating also declined slightly in the final weeks of the 1996 campaign. But some candidates, such as Bill Clinton and Ross Perot in 1992 and Al Gore in 2000, finished the campaign with a higher favorable rating than they had been getting in October.
Favorable Ratings as Predictors of the Election Outcome
A positive sign for Obama's prospects of becoming the 44th U.S. president is that the candidate who has had the higher favorable rating among likely voters at the end of the election has been elected president each time since 1992.
Given the positive public evaluations that McCain and Obama have received throughout 2008, it could be argued that Americans will be comfortable with either as the next commander in chief. While only one can be president, the loser of this year's election is poised to supplant Al Gore as the best-liked presidential candidate not to get elected.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 825 likely voters, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 10-12, 2008. For results based on the total sample of likely voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 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.