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Updated 10:00 AM September 22, 2008




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Big Ten poll finds Michigan slightly in favor of Obama

Concerns about jobs and the economy and a widespread need for change are leading Michigan residents to slightly favor Barack Obama over John McCain, according to results from the Big Ten Battleground Poll.

Almost half (48 percent) of a representative sample of 628 registered voters in Michigan polled Sept. 14-17 said if the 2008 presidential election were being held that day, they would vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. This compares to 44 percent who said they would vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin. In Michigan, both Obama and McCain have equal levels of support among their partisans, almost 9-in-10. Independents are evenly divided in their preferences. But there are slightly more people in the survey who identify as Democrats, and that is the source of the Obama lead, pollsters say.

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 Sept. 18 on the Big Ten Network.

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

The individual surveys of 600 randomly selected registered voters were co-directed by University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientists Charles Franklin and Ken Goldstein and colleagues from participating universities. The states included in the poll were Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota.

In seven of the eight Midwest states surveyed, Obama and McCain were in a statistical dead heat. The margin of error for the state polls was 4 percentage points.

"In the Big Ten states overall, and in Michigan, in particular, people feel that Obama would be better than McCain at bringing about change (56 percent to 31 percent)," says researcher Michael Traugott, a Big Ten poll adviser.

"The vast majority of people said that the term 'experienced' better describes McCain than Obama (72 percent to 17 percent). But people obviously value change over experience."

When asked about the war in Iraq, more than half of the Michigan respondents surveyed (53 percent) said in their view the most responsible thing to do is to set a firm deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops within the next 16 months — basically the position taken by Obama.

This compares to 42 percent who said that the most responsible thing to do is to remain in Iraq until the situation in the country stabilizes — McCain's position. But according to Traugott, who is a professor of communications studies and a senior research scientist at the Institute for Social Research (ISR), it is trouble in the economy that is most responsible for driving up support for Obama.

"Thinking about things in the U.S.," respondents were asked, "do you think things are generally going in the right direction, or do you feel things have gotten off on the wrong track?" Overall, just 17 percent of those surveyed feel the U.S. is moving in the right direction, compared with 77 percent who feel the country is on the wrong track.

In Michigan, survey respondents were even more pessimistic. Eleven percent say things are going in the "right direction" while 84 percent in the state feel that things are on the "wrong track."

Respondents were asked how they felt about the nation's economy, specifically. "Would you say that over the past year the nation's economy has gotten better, stayed the same or gotten worse?" In the nation, only about three percent said it had gotten better and 13 percent said about it was the same. Four out of five (83 percent) said it was doing worse than a year ago.

In Michigan, more than 82 percent said the economy was doing worse, compared to 12 percent who said it was doing about the same and just 4 percent who said it was doing better.

Most of the questions in the poll were asked of all respondents. But each participating Big Ten University asked a few questions of state residents only. In Michigan, U-M asked about support for stricter federal fuel efficiency standards for cars. "Despite the personal impact of the ailing domestic auto industry, 67 percent of Michigan residents said that these standards should be stricter than they are now," Traugott says. "This compares to 25 percent who said standards should not be stricter, and 8 percent who had no opinion."

Among those who felt fuel efficiency standards should be stricter, Obama leads McCain by 56 percent to 36 percent, while McCain leads among those who feel the standards should not be stricter, 67 percent to 27 percent.

Just 24 percent of Michigan residents said they thought that free trade agreements like the North Atlantic Free Trade Association (NAFTA), and the World Trade Organization (WTO), have been a good thing for the U.S. Among this group, McCain leads Obama 54 percent to 42 percent. Slightly more than half of those surveyed (55 percent) said NAFTA and the WTO had been bad for the United States, and Obama leads McCain by 52 percent to 39 percent in this group. About 21 percent of Michigan residents surveyed said they weren't sure or didn't know.

Half of Michigan residents said that the policies of Obama were more likely to create jobs. This compares with 33 percent who said John McCain's policies were more likely to create jobs.

Half of those surveyed also said that the policies of Obama were more likely to improve the economy, while 39 percent said that McCain's policies would be more likely to improve the economy. "Given the turmoil in the financial markets in the past week, these perceptions of economic and jobs policies also give Obama an advantage," Traugott says.

For complete results from the poll, go to A second poll will be conducted and released in mid-October.

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