Poll: Uncommitted Voters Move To McCain

Republican presidential candidate Sen., John McCain, R-Ariz., address the crowd with his vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, during a campaign rally at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008. AP

About a third of the voters who were uncommitted to either Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama or Republican rival Sen. John McCain one month ago have now made up their minds, and more have settled on the Republican ticket than the Democratic one, a new CBS News poll finds.

For the new poll, CBS News re-interviewed voters who said they were uncommitted in a CBS News/New York Times poll conducted in mid-August. While nearly two in three still have not settled on a candidate, 20 percent of these previously uncommitted voters have now decided to back McCain, while 14 percent have settled on Obama.

In the August poll, uncommitted voters made up 34 percent of all registered voters. Voters were considered uncommitted if they indicated they preferred a candidate but had not settled with certainty on that candidate, or if they were completely undecided.

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Among previously uncommitted voters who have decided to back a candidate, Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin has been well received: 52 percent have a favorable feeling towards her, while just 18 percent view her unfavorably. Obama running mate Sen. Joe Biden is less well known: 54 percent say they don't know enough about him to have an opinion.

When asked directly what helped them to choose a candidate, 28 percent of these previously uncommitted voters volunteered Sarah Palin, making her the top reason. Sixteen percent volunteered the speeches at the conventions.

Previously uncommitted voters have been paying more attention to the campaign. Thirty-nine percent of all previously uncommitted voters say they have paid a lot of attention in the last few weeks, and 46 percent have paid at least some attention. When they were originally interviewed in August, just 21 percent of these same voters said they had been paying a lot of attention to the campaign in recent weeks.

Despite McCain's lead among previously uncommitted voters who have made up their mind, McCain and Obama are running about even when voters who are not yet certain are included. Forty percent of previously uncommitted voters say they support Obama, though more than half have not made a firm commitment to the Democratic nominee; 39 percent say they support McCain.

Among voters who were completely undecided in August there has been more movement towards McCain than Obama. Thirty-one percent of formerly undecided voters have moved towards the Arizona senator, while 23 percent have moved towards his Democratic rival. Forty-five percent remain completely undecided.

At least some of McCain's newfound support appears to be coming from the Republican base. Though McCain has traditionally struggled to win over the group, his selection of Palin has energized socially conservative voters. Eighty-one percent of voters who have moved towards McCain say vice presidential choices will be influential in their vote. And half of the voters who have moved towards McCain expect him to adopt more conservative policies than President George W. Bush.

Previously uncommitted voters who have made up their minds are far more likely to say Biden is prepared to be vice president (71 percent say that he is) than to say the same of Palin (just 47 percent say yes.) But Palin is far more relatable to these voters, with 71 percent saying they can relate to the Alaska governor compared to 36 percent for Biden.

Voters who remain uncommitted to either candidate are slightly more likely to be female than male. Forty-six percent describe themselves as independents, and 48 percent say they are moderates. More than half are 45 years old or older.

The perception of the candidates amongst these voters mirrors perceptions amongst the greater electorate. Obama is seen as more relatable than McCain: 72 percent of still-uncommitted voters relate to the Democratic nominee, while just 38 percent relate to his rival. But McCain is more widely seen as prepared for the presidency, with 82 percent saying the Arizona senator is ready for the job. (Just 31 percent say the same of Obama.) McCain is also more widely seen as likely to be an effective commander in chief.

This poll was conducted by telephone September 5-7, 2008 among 738 respondents first interviewed by CBS News and the New York Times August 15-19, 2008. CBS News re-interviewed 655 registered voters for this poll, including 208 uncommitted voters. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample and registered voters could be plus or minus four percentage points. The error on measures of individual change is much smaller.
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