Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

High Interest, Limited Knowledge

Public interest in campaign 2008 is up sharply over recent election years, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center, but many voters still do not know where the two candidates actually stand on hot-button issues, including abortion.

Overall, Americans are bullish on the presidential election, with 59 percent calling the contest "interesting," up significantly from 2004 and double the percentage saying so eight years ago. (Thirty-five percent find the current contest "dull.") And general interest in the race is nearly twice what it was among those under 30 in 2000 - younger voters now rival older ones in their engagement.

Despite the high attention levels, both campaigns have a long way to go to define the candidates headed into the nominating conventions and the crucial post-Labor Day stretch.

As reported a month ago from Post-ABC polling, about half of all Americans know "only some" or "little or none" about either candidate's positions on specific issues, and the new Pew poll shows how the ambiguity extends to assessments of the candidates' positions on abortion and Iraq.

Only about half of all respondents correctly identified the candidates positions on abortion: 52 percent rightly tabbed Barack Obama as "pro-choice," and 45 percent know John McCain to be "pro-life."

The "information gap" is crucial because it directly relates to vote preferences. Obama has a nearly 3 to 1 advantage (71 to 24 percent) among pro-choice voters who know where both candidates stand on the issue, but he has only a small, 8-point edge among those who lack such clarity about the candidates' views.

Similarly, McCain trounces Obama (70 to 24 percent) among pro-life voters who know the candidates positions, and the two about evenly split those who do not know where one or the other stands.

This pattern also holds among pro-choice and pro-life independents.

Vote among those who support legal abortion:

Know candidates' positions


Do not know positions


Vote among those who oppose legal abortion:

Know candidates' positions


Do not know positions


SOURCE: Pew Research Center poll conducted by telephone June 18-29, 2008 among a random national sample of 2,004 adults. Results have a 2.5 percentage point error margin.

At this stage, the lingering public doubt helps McCain, since those who know where the candidates stand on the issue divide as expected, and there are more who identify themselves as supporters of legal abortion. In the new Pew poll, 57 percent of all adults said abortion should be legal in all or most cases; 37 percent said it should be generally illegal. (In the June Post-ABC poll, those numbers were 53 and 44 percent, respectively.)

There was greater public awareness of where the candidates stand on whether the U.S. should set a timetable to withdraw its troops, but sizable percentages did not know or misidentified Obama's support for a deadline (24 percent) or McCain's opposition (38 percent).

By Jon Cohen  |  July 10, 2008; 2:13 PM ET
Categories:  Polls  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The Flip-flopping Flap
Next: New Poll Highlights: The War on the War


We have had a pro-choice and pro-life presidents since Roe V Wade. Who cares what their position is on abortion. The decision has already been made in the courts. Let's move on to real issues that affect a whole lot more people than the abortion issue.

Posted by: Kerry | July 10, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Once again cause is reported as effect and vice versa. Its not that knowing Obama's positions on abortion causes people to vote for him, its that pro-choicers who CARE THE MOST about choice have done their research and undecideds really don't care much about abortion and it wouldn't sway them one way or the other. DUH.

Posted by: KB | July 10, 2008 6:43 PM | Report abuse

The News Hour on PBS reports this evening that a new poll they commissioned shows an extermely high interest in the presidential election.

The poll also shows that the voters have a deep understanding of the issues and a surprisingly high number know the positions of Obama and McCain on the issues.

Abortion did not make the top ten issues, with the economy, Iraq and gas prices the top three issues.

Posted by: New Era | July 10, 2008 7:50 PM | Report abuse

By all means, lets keep electing people to decide energy policy, foreign policy, tax policy, education policy based on the American electorate's nutty ideas (one way or the other) about abortion. It's sure proven to be a great springboard to rational thought so far. What is it about that subject that makes everyone immediately STUPID and unable to think beyond their knee-jerk opinion on that one issue. In the interest of the survival of the country, we should pass "don't ask, don't tell" legislation outlawing any politician from disclosing their views on that subject. Then maybe the country could focus on something important. Geeessh!

Posted by: Abort Abortion Issues | July 10, 2008 7:57 PM | Report abuse

how can you know where these two idiots stand in the first place - the won't stay in the same position long enough!

Posted by: roastedtoad | July 10, 2008 7:59 PM | Report abuse

Obama changes his position depending on his audience so the voters cannot know for certain where he stands. He has abandoned his liberal supporters who 'brought him to the dance'.

Posted by: readlife | July 10, 2008 9:27 PM | Report abuse

The Pew research poll is nearly one month old according to their website, ancient history in this rapidly developing race. The News Hour didn't report on the period of time the survey was taken and it also inaccurately claimed that it was consistent with other polls. NOT TRUE! Both the Gallup and the Rasmussen poll daily. The Gallup reported a 3% lead for Obama and the Rasmussen a 4% today. Both are declines from a week ago, surely reflecting the reaction to recent Obama retreats from traditional Democratic ideals, such as his FISA vote just yesterday. Don't be misled. Obama's recent stampede to the right is costing him, and by extension all Democrats who want to win the White House.

Posted by: Yellow Dog | July 10, 2008 9:50 PM | Report abuse

Abortion was decided with Roe vs. Wade. It is time for the media to move on to issues which are important to the American people - the economy, gas prices, healthcare reform, education reform (time to dump No Child Left Behind and let teachers teach), Iraq, Afghanistan, bin Laden.

Posted by: Jeanne King | July 11, 2008 7:50 AM | Report abuse

The $300 billion housing bailout bill, currently stalled in Congress, promises to rescue homeowners and save the economy. Comprising the core of the bill is a $300 billion increase in FHA lending permitting banks to offload their riskiest mortgages onto American taxpayers in exchange for realizing losses that would be all but a certainty. In order to ensure there are sufficient special interests handouts to appease everyone, a new policy has been included that enables homeowners to deduct up to $1,000 in property taxes even if the homeowner does not itemize. Additionally, the bill provides money to local governments to buy foreclosed properties in an attempt to reduce "blight" and prop up the values of houses in depressed areas. All of these proposals may have noble intentions, but they are misguided pork-laden attempts at preventing further pain in the housing market.

Posted by: GoBoilers | July 11, 2008 10:02 PM | Report abuse


Obama's impossible road ahead:

Posted by: PacificGatePost | July 12, 2008 12:56 PM | Report abuse

American voters are pretty dumb. Think of the millions of people who voted for George W. Bush in 2004.

Posted by: Lilly | July 14, 2008 9:34 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company