Sen. Barack Obama holds leads in four key counties that will go a long way toward determining the eventual winner in four important swing states — Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia — according to a new Politico/Insider Advantage survey.
Obama is poised to expand on recent Democratic gains in three populous suburban counties — Pennsylvania’s Bucks County, Missouri’s St. Louis County and Virginia’s Prince William County. In a fourth, Ohio’s Franklin County, home to Columbus and its suburbs, the survey also found Obama with the lead.
In Bucks County, a politically competitive but historically Republican suburb that shares a border with Philadelphia, Obama is running ahead of McCain, 47-41 percent. In 2004, Democrat John F. Kerry carried the county by a slim 51percent to 48 percent.
Obama bests McCain 50 percent to 42 percent in Prince William County, a Washington, D.C. suburb that voted for George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004. Between 1976 and 2004, Prince William County supported Republican presidential candidates by an average margin of 18 points.
Obama also has opened up a wide 53 percent to 37 percent advantage over McCain in suburban St. Louis County, which does not include Missouri’s second-largest city, St. Louis. In 2004, Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic nominee, carried St. Louis County, the most populous county in the state, 54 percent to 45 percent.
In Ohio’s Franklin County, the state’s second-most populous county after Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, Obama leads by a narrower 45 percent to 40 percent margin. Kerry carried Franklin County 54 percent to 45 percent in 2004.
InsiderAdvantage pollster Matt Towery explained Obama’s success in these areas is a result of his strength among independents and voters between the ages of 30 and 44.
“That is the most angry group of voters that we have this year, with regard to the Republicans,” Towery said. “I see that in almost every poll I look at.”
In Prince William County, Obama leads in this age group, 58 percent to 33 percent, and takes independent voters by an even wider, 55=percent-to-25-percent margin. McCain is scheduled to appear in Prince William Saturday, a nod to his vulnerability there and also to the electoral importance of that traditionally Republican area.
Obama’s advantages in Prince William County hold up in competitive locales across the country, with independents consistently picking him over McCain.
“The big swing, again, is that Obama’s picking up the lion’s share of the independents,” Towery added.
Independents in Pennsylvania’s Bucks County support Obama, 46 percent to 32 percent, and 30-to-44-year-olds pick him by a 10-point margin, 49 percent to 37 percent.
In central Ohio’s Franklin County, he takes 30-to-44-year-olds by a smaller, but still decisive 49 percent to 34 percent gap, and wins independents, 43 percent to 19 percent.
Missouri’s St. Louis County, where Obama is safely ahead of McCain, features Obama’s narrowest lead among 30-to-44-year-olds: he’s ahead there by 49 percent to 40 percent. Independents are breaking for Obama by a more convincing, 47-percent-to-31-percent margin.
During the Democratic primary, Obama won just a handful of counties in Missouri, but by running up big margins in the city and county of St. Louis, he was able to pull out a narrow statewide victory over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Kerry’s 9-point margin in St. Louis County and his landslide 80 percent win in the city of St. Louis were not enough to overcome George W. Bush’s lead elsewhere in the state. But if Obama can maintain his commanding advantage there, it could help tip the state into the Democratic electoral column.
Currently, Towery said, McCain is headed for a major defeat in the area.
“In this county, he’s not even doig well with the 65-and-over crowd,” he said. “This is a wipeout.”
Unlike in St. Louis County, Obama did not perform well in Bucks County in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary. Though the Philadelphia suburb was seen as favorable terrain for the Illinois senator, Clinton handily defeated him there, 63 percent to 37 percent.
Obama’s lead in Bucks County is within the poll’s margin of error and he is not performing as well among women as he is in the other counties surveyed. In Bucks, he has just a 4-point edge with female voters, compared with a 16-point spread in the Columbus, Ohio, area.
According to Towery, this can partly be attributed to McCain’s strong performance among middle-aged women.
“You’ve got an unusually high number for McCain in that 45-to-64 age group, and that’s got a lot of women in it,” Towery explained. Among voters in that age interval, McCain leads Obama 53 percent to 37 percent.
That Obama is ahead of McCain in Bucks County, anyway, suggests that he has been more successful than his opponent in reaching out to the suburban swing voters who dominate areas such as these.
A September poll commissioned by Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies showed McCain leading Obama among suburban voters, nationwide, by a 48 percent to 42 percent margin. The poll was conducted Sept. 15-21.
But whatever the national trend among suburbanites, Obama has edged ahead in key areas that are likely to influence the outcome of the election.
Recent public polling has shown Obama winning all four states in which these county-level polls were conducted. The RealClearPolitics polling average has Obama ahead by 14 points in Pennsylvania, Virginia by 8.1 percent, 3.2 percent in Ohio and 1.8 percent in Missouri.
This is the second round of Politico/Insider Advantage polling in critical counties. The first round results, published Tuesday, showed Obama tied or leading McCain in Jefferson County, Colo.; Washoe County, Nev.; Wake County, N.C.; and Hillsborough County, Fla.
The Politico/InsiderAdvantage telephone surveys in St. Louis County and Franklin County were conducted Oct. 13. The St. Louis County survey included 542 likely voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. The Franklin survey included 376 likely voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percent.
The Politico/InsiderAdvantage telephone surveys in Bucks County and Prince William County were conducted Oct. 14. The Bucks survey included 320 likely voters and the Prince William survey included 308 likely voters, both with a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percent.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that St. Louis is Missouri’s largest city.