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Post-ABC Tracking: Better Know A Candidate

As the last days of the 2008 presidential campaign unfold, voters seem poised to make an informed choice next week, though voters are divided about whether issues or personal traits are a more important factor.

New data from the Washington Post-ABC News daily tracking poll shows nearly eight in 10 feel knowledgeable about the candidate's issue positions, up from about six in 10 in June for both candidates.

About four in 10 voters emphasize personal qualities, while 45 percent place greater weight on the issues. One in 10 said both are equally important.

Independents have shifted markedly over the past few weeks on whether issues or qualities rate as the more important factor in their vote. In mid-October, 33 percent cited a candidate's leadership abilities, 55 percent placed a higher priority on issues. Now, they divide about evenly.

Barack Obama holds a commanding lead among those prioritizing issue positions, leading John McCain 67 percent to 30 percent. McCain's edge among those more concerned with personal qualities is smaller, 56 percent to 40 percent. And that margin has narrowed somewhat: Earlier in the month, McCain held a 61 to 40 percent lead among personality voters, Obama's lead on the issues side was 68 to 29.

Both white and African American voters are divided evenly on the question, and among white voters, it is Obama's advantage on issues (22 points) that is the thinner one (McCain holds a 34 point lead among whites who prioritize personal qualities).

Both candidates appear to have made headway over the past four months in conveying their views on the issues. The proportion of voters who said they know a "great deal" about each candidate's issue positions has nearly doubled since June, however, a sizable one in five said they feel they know little about the candidates views.

Increases have come across party and ideological lines, with independents logging the steepest gains. In June, just 13 percent of independent voters felt they had a solid grasp on Obama's issue positions, 14 percent said so of McCain, now it's 43 percent for both.

Surprisingly, partisans on both sides were a bit less apt to feel well informed than independents. Just 36 percent of Republican likely voters said they felt very well informed about McCain's views, up from 19 percent in June, it's 40 percent of Democrats on Obama's side, up from 22 percent four months ago.

Among independents, 35 percent of likely voters said they felt they knew a great deal about both men vying for the presidency, an additional 38 percent felt they knew at least a good amount about both. Just one in 10 felt ill-informed on both sides.

Full data from the Washington Post-ABC News daily tracking poll can be found here.

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  October 29, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Tracking  
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In the chaos leading up to this historic election, there is one theme that has been reverberating across our country. That theme has been the eloquence of a gifted speaker, Barack Obama. Barack can articulate with the stunning expressions of a prophet leading his flock to the Promised Land. Barack has such self-belief that his phrases transcend the ages. Yet, for all his persuasiveness the one thing that I, an interested American and the wife of a small town mayor, amassed is Barack’s knack for the melodramatic. I have heard Barack referred to as “no drama Obama”, I think this is a misnomer. Barack is in truth tremendously melodramatic.

“Turn the page” is in Barack’s latest spiritual homily. “Turn the page” is communicated with the voice of a well practiced lecturer. Again, the melodrama is resonated even in an open air forum. But for all the histrionics the only thought I have assembled is that I have a savior and his name is not Barack Obama.

Another quote by Barack in the International Herald Tribune is "In one week, you can put an end to the politics that would divide a nation just to win an election, that tries to pit region against region, city against town and Republican against Democrat, that asks us to fear at a time when we need hope."In one week's time, at this defining moment in history, you can give this country the change we need." One thing I do agree with Barack about is that this is indeed a defining moment. My trepidation for our nation is that we do not look beyond the nuances of a fine orator rather my hope for our nation is that we choose our next president with the wisdom our forefathers’ bestowed upon us.

Many a nation has been mesmerized by a dynamic personality only to discover that the person designated to lead their nations had neither the knowledge nor experience to be a leader. What those nations fell for was just a façade, a house of cards. Let us learn from history…be a student of history… let us define OUR history. It belongs to us, all of us.

Look beyond the eloquence, look beyond the stunning expressions, look beyond the elegant phrases; to be more precise look beyond the melodrama. Look for the tangible and concrete evidence of a leader. A leader who has acknowledged his shortcomings as well as his virtues, a leader whose very existence has been a lesson in “the audacity of hope”. We are one nation no one needs to tell us that. We are a nation of hope no one can take that away from us just by saying it is not so. Elect the person whose example of courage is one that we can be proud of as a nation. Elect John McCain for President of these United States.

Posted by: jab3698 | October 29, 2008 10:12 AM | Report abuse


Depite your eloquence you are falling into the same trap you see Obama supporters falling in. Your readons for choosing McCain are based upon his past military service. However, looking at issues it is time to "turn the page" on tax plans that benefit only the wealthies 10%,The religious right, and dangerous political campaigns that only divide us as a nation. Rolling the dice on Obama is much safer than 4 years of McCain and god forbig Palin.

Posted by: cmc3 | October 29, 2008 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Personal qualities don't a government make.

Posted by: thornwalker1 | October 29, 2008 10:59 AM | Report abuse


I would never "roll the dice" on my inalienable right! I choose the candidate with a substantive record that INCLUDES a lifetime of accomplishment through 2008. I am not saying Barack should not be president, just not yet. Barack should build a resume with concrete credentials. I admire his idealism and eloquence, but for me, I need to vote for a candidate with more practical experience. Right NOW that candidate is John McCain.

Posted by: jab3698 | October 29, 2008 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Democrats for John McCain and Sarah Palin in 2008

Posted by: hclark1 | October 29, 2008 11:34 AM | Report abuse


I don't really think Obama is rolling the dice, I was just going off of what you said. Unfortunately we do not have time for Obama to build his credentials as you said in the senate. We it is obvious that McCain offers nothing different from the past 8 years. I liked him back in 2000, but he has betrayed his true ideals for the sake of the presidency, I can not vote for him. Looking at that, I choose the inspiring figure who is bringing millions of voters into the process and surrounding himself with the best and brightest on policy issues. Obama is not a gamble, practical experience is useless if you have been practicing supporting W. 90% of the time.

Posted by: cmc3 | October 29, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

ISSUES COME AND ISSUES GO. Personal traits and Character are FOREVER.

One candidate has Character. The other has always been a Sell-Out to the highest bidder.

Dangerous times always require a leader with Character who stands up for AMERICA, not a self-serving sycophant.

The Sell-Out knows who he is and so do you. His name is Obama.


Posted by: InHarmsWay | October 29, 2008 12:04 PM | Report abuse

jab3698, is there a particular reason why you keep referring to Obama by his first name only? This is the way racists used to refer to their maids and servants, and it's how black people were referred to in southern newspapers. Perhaps you're too young to realize that, but it still sounds a little creepy.

Do you use "John" and "Sarah" and "Joe" in the same way? Just asking.

Posted by: andym108 | October 29, 2008 12:35 PM | Report abuse

These two candidates (McCain/Palin) form a Chimeric Maverick the rarest of breeds, now you see them, now you do not; disappearing before your very eyes come November 4, 2008

A Chimera in Genetics is a hybrid of two separate species; in politics, it is the equivalent of trying to be every man for every season. McCain/Palin is a Chimera, a unique combination of Right-Wing Conservative Ideologist “Maverick”, and “Centrist “across the aisle reaching “Maverick” or so they say. John and Sarah want you to believe that they are much like the mythical push-me pull-you creature of “Doctor Doolittle” fame. Recently John Mc Cain has attempted to divorce himself from the disastrous policies and ideologies of President G.W. Bush that he so heartily endorsed especially while campaigning for President Bush in 2004

While on one had they claim that their distributions of wealth policies (i.e. mortgage buyouts) are good common sense. They measure equivalent distributions of Barack Obama (tax cut/ tax rollback) as Socialism. Furthermore while they prostate themselves before the free market, they simultaneously argue for government regulation of corruption and greed on Wall Street. Sen. McCain and Governor Palin vilify liberals as being the bane of market growth in one breath and then claim that they work with Democrats (read Liberals) to build a better America.

Lately in an effort to convince Americans not to vote for Sen.Obama they have stood logic on its head. They now claim (on “Meet The Press” Oct 26 McCain reiterated) that opponent Sen. Obama is a Herbert Hoover Protectionist (R) and a Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) like socialist. This is like arguing that Ronald Reagan also endorsed Jimmy Carter’s policies. Hoover and Roosevelt could not have been more different. Sarah Pain does not know a Socialist from a moose, but she attacks both with the same trigger finger she does while hunting.

This circular reasoning is contributing to the downward intellectual spiral of those who live in Sarah Palin’s Pro-America and watch Fox News. It is one thing to be an attack dog; it is another to attack while biting one’s own tail. These two candidates are not on message therefore NOT READY TO LEAD!

Posted by: michelle4usa | October 29, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

If the President's job as a leader were to be defined as a trusted and experienced community organizer - and the only model shift is from a national organizer to a global one, Obama has proven quite consistently he can build teams, mobilize them and he can move people to act in unprecedented ways.

Those are the leadership qualities that are sorely lacking from any other incumbent, or candidate in recent history.

Obama inspires people. That is the point where change occurs. You can trivialize his experience as eloquence (a code word for talking above people's heads, or elitism), but intellect (again sorely missing in the present administration), combined with Obama's abilities to listen and mediate is what demonstrates his temperment and capacity to lead.

We have a true chance to turn the page and hit the ground running with fresh thinking and renewed motivation. Let's hope enough American's can see through the campaign fog to make a smart choice for the future.

Here's to hope.

Posted by: DonJulio | October 29, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse

In a certain way, Republican attacks on polling are well-founded.

First, even scientific polls *can* be wrong (Dewey and Truman in 1948 come to mind).

Second, elections can be stolen (Florida 2000 comes to mind).

And third, religious extremists don't actually believe in statistics or science, so in their magical world anything is possible no matter what the polls say and no matter how unqualified their candidate is.

This is illustrated by the selection of Sarah Palin, probably the most UNQUALIFIED PERSON ever to run for high office (although George W. Bush has to be close second).

The Republicans are definitely hoping to win this year with the votes of the "My name is Earl" majority.

Posted by: jjedif | October 29, 2008 2:57 PM | Report abuse


I was actually imitating Barack's use of John McCain's first name "John" during the debates. Did you have issue with that? Just asking...thanks for the compliment about being young...

Posted by: jab3698 | October 29, 2008 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Republicans for Obama and McCain

Posted by: Issa1 | October 29, 2008 4:21 PM | Report abuse

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