Obama leads McCain in ND Poll
Copyright 2008 The Forum of Fargo/Moorhead
FARGO, N.D. - Barack Obama is shown with an edge against John McCain in a North Dakota presidential race that has narrowed to a statistical tie, according to a new Forum poll.
The survey shows Obama squeaking past McCain, 45 percent to 43 percent, a lead that falls within the poll's margin of error and therefore indicates a dead heat, according to political analysts.
Still up for grabs: undecided voters, comprising 12 percent.
"It's a statistical tossup," said Jim Danielson, co-director of the Public Affairs Institute at Minnesota State University Moorhead, which conducted the statewide telephone survey for The Forum. Pollsters contacted 606 likely North Dakota voters by telephone Oct. 6-8.
The poll indicates McCain's once-comfortable lead in North Dakota has melted away as Obama is the widely favored choice among voters who consider the economy the most pressing issue.
Among voters who rank the economy as their top concern, 49 percent favor Obama, while 38 percent back McCain. The economy was far and away the most important national issue among voters, according to the poll, even though a majority regarded their own economic situation as "better off" or the "same" compared to a year ago.
Another troubling sign in the poll for McCain, who has styled himself as a maverick who is not a clone of President Bush: McCain has failed to solidify his hold on the GOP base in North Dakota, where he has the support of just 73 percent of voters identifying themselves as strong Republicans.
In February's North Dakota Republican caucuses, McCain finished second behind Mitt Romney, barely ahead of Ron Paul, an early sign his campaign was not eagerly embraced by many of the party faithful.
By contrast, Obama has a commanding lead among Democratic voters and is a favorite among independent voters.
McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is shown as neither helping nor hurting the Republican among North Dakota voters. Eighty percent of those polled said McCain's selection of Palin as running mate had little or no influence on their choice of primary candidate.
If Obama defeats McCain in North Dakota's Nov. 4 election, it would be a historic loss for the Republicans, who have failed to carry the state in only three presidential elections since 1916, most recently Lyndon Johnson's defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Not long ago, North Dakota appeared to be strongly behind McCain, despite Obama's decision to open field offices throughout the state, an unprecedented presence by a Democratic presidential contender. The Obama campaign recently pulled its staff from North Dakota, shifting them to hotly contested Minnesota and Wisconsin, but a network of volunteers continues to work out of the offices.
The last publicly reported North Dakota presidential poll, taken Sept. 16-17, showed McCain led Obama 53 percent to 40 percent, the latest in a string of surveys this year showing the Republican was ahead in North Dakota. But an early poll, in February, surprised many politicos when Obama was shown leading 46 percent to 42 percent.
With three weeks remaining in the race, with the nation rocked by a financial panic and wars continuing in Iraq and Afghanistan, the two presidential candidates' fate could be strongly influence by factors outside their control, said Philip Baumann, co-director of the Public Affairs Institute and a professor of political science at MSUM.
"Lots can depend on external situations and developments," Baumann said.
Despite McCain's problems in North Dakota, the Republicans' strong organization in the state still could prove formidable, Danielson said. A party's machine is crucial in getting its voters to the polls on Election Day.
"If I were going to put my money on it right now, my estimate is the Republicans will have the lead there," Danielson said.
Still, the poll suggests North Dakota, which holds three of 538 electoral votes, will draw renewed interest and redoubled efforts from both campaigns, Baumann said.
"You could see a scramble from both parties," he added. "Right now it's neck and neck. It's within the margin of error. It could go either way."
Rollout of ND poll results
- Today: President, most important national issues
- Tuesday: U.S. House, governor, insurance commissioner and most important state issues
- Wednesday: State ballot measures
- Thursday: Job-performance ratings of president, U.S. senators, U.S. congressman, governor and state Legislature
About this poll
Telephone interviews of 606 likely North Dakota voters were conducted Oct. 6-8 in a statewide survey conducted by the Public Affairs Institute of Minnesota State University Moorhead. The poll, with a sample weighted for age, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Democratic presidential candidates have carried North Dakota only three times since 1916. Each Democratic victory was decisive, and two came during the Great Depression:
- 1964: President Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater 58 percent to 42 percent.
- 1936: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt beat Alf Landon 69 percent to 31 percent.
- 1932: Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated President Herbert Hoover 71 percent to 29 percent.
Source: North Dakota Secretary of State
Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522