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Northwestern Expert Discusses New Election Poll In Big Ten States

September 16, 2008 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University's Victoria DeFrancesco Soto and other leading election specialists from Big Ten schools lent their expertise to the inaugural Big Ten Battleground Poll, taken as the nation's financial crisis worsened.

Released Sept. 18, the poll shows John McCain and Barack Obama in a statistical dead heat in seven of the eight Midwest states included in the survey. For more on the poll and a list of poll contacts at each of the participating universities, go to www.bigtenpoll.org.

DeFrancesco Soto, assistant professor of political science, was particularly interested in how people are negotiating group identities of race, partisanship and gender in evaluating the candidates and ultimately their voting choice.

"Fifty percent of likely Illinois voters said partisanship should be secondary to gender," said DeFrancesco Soto. "That goes against what we know about classic American voting behavior. Partisanship has always been a predictor of voting choice. But these results suggest that maybe gender group identity, and not necessarily partisan group identity, is driving voting decisions."

DeFrancesco Soto specializes in campaigns, elections and group identities.

The poll was co-directed by University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientists Charles Franklin and Ken Goldstein, in collaboration with DeFranceso Soto and other Big Ten election and campaign experts.

"The close margins in the vast majority of states show that whatever the effects were immediately after the national party conventions, these states have moved back to a highly competitive status, with neither candidates having a clear lead, except in Illinois," said Franklin, co-developer of Pollster.com.

Obama holds a 16-point lead over McCain in Illinois, Obama's home state. The two candidates are tied in Iowa and Pennsylvania, and Obama has just a one-point lead in Ohio and Wisconsin. McCain is ahead in just one state -- Indiana -- where he leads by 4 percentage points.

Key battlegrounds in the 2004 presidential election, the eight states included in the poll are home to the 11 universities in the Big Ten Conference. The results of the poll show that they are among the most competitive in the country and are likely to be pivotal in determining the election outcome.


Across all states in the Midwest poll, voters overwhelmingly said the country is going in the wrong direction. President George W. Bush has a favorability rating ranging from 30 to 40 percent, and more than eight in 10 voters in the poll think the nation's economy has gotten worse during the last year.

McCain and Obama both have favorable ratings above 50 percent in each of the eight states. Sarah Palin was viewed favorably by about half of voters across the region. Twelve to 18 percent of voters in each state had no opinion of the Republican vice presidential candidate.

The majority of voters in each of the eight states said Obama was the better candidate to bring about change. More than two-thirds of voters in each state said McCain was the more experienced candidate. Voters were split about evenly in each of the states on the question of which candidate shares their values.

Obama has an advantage among women in the region, including double-digit leads over McCain in Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Among Catholic voters, McCain leads in five of the eight states and by large margins in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The poll found Catholics in Indiana and Illinois favor Obama by significant margins.


The individual surveys of 600 randomly selected registered voters -- in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota -- were conducted by phone from Sept. 14 to 17. The poll also included a nationally representative sample of 1,114 respondents, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points. That survey shows Obama with a one-point margin over McCain.

Universities participating in the partnership are the University of Illinois, the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Penn State University and University of Wisconsin-Madison.


The results of this rare regional poll — a partnership involving eight Big Ten universities — were unveiled in a 90-minute show called "Big Ten Battleground: Campaign 2008," which aired at 3 p.m. CDT (4 p.m. EDT) Sept. 18 on the Big Ten Network.

The Big Ten Battleground Poll will be repeated in mid-October, with the results presented in another installment of the show on the Big Ten Network.
Topics: Research