Local Politics

Poll: Geography, gender, race split presidential vote

Posted October 27, 2008 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated October 28, 2008 3:31 p.m. EDT

— Geography is playing as much a role in the presidential election in North Carolina as the more usual dividing lines of race and gender, according to a WRAL News poll released Monday.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. surveyed 800 likely voters statewide between last Wednesday and Friday and found Republican candidate John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama to be in a dead heat, 47 percent of voters favoring each. Libertarian candidate Bob Barr has 1 percent of the vote, and 5 percent of North Carolina voters remain undecided.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

"If this race remains even on Election Day, Obama will carry the state," says John Davis, who's tracked political races for more than two decades as an independent consultant and former president of non-partisan political research business association NCFREE. "He has a sophisticated, fine-tuned (voter) turnout machine, the likes of which hasn't been seen in years."

North Carolina hasn't backed a Democrat for president since Jimmy Carter in 1976, but a tight race eight days out from the election could signal a wave of change, Republican strategist Carter Wrenn said.

"The tide is 10 feet up, so we Republicans are standing on the last two feet praying the water stops rising," Wrenn said.

A boundary line between McCain and Obama can be drawn down the middle of the state, according to the poll. Obama is favored by voters in the eastern half of the state – Triangle voters give him a 59 to 36 percent margin – while McCain gets the nod in the western half, including the Charlotte and Triad metro areas.

"Eastern North Carolina has counties with large African-American populations, which is where Obama is getting his support," Davis said. "On the other hand, the western counties have more older and more conservative voters, so they're trending toward McCain."

The race and age factors in that geographic split reflect two other dividing lines in the presidential race, the poll shows.

While McCain holds a 58 to 36 percent lead among white North Carolina voters, Obama holds an overwhelming 92 to 3 percent lead among blacks.

"There's no way to analyze this election than, I think, through the lens of race," said Gary Pearce, a Democratic strategist.

Pearce said he believes Obama needs even better percentages to win the state.

"He would have to win a disproportionate amount of undecided white votes," he said.

Likewise, Obama holds a double-digit lead among voters 34 and younger, while McCain enjoys a similar advantage among voters 65 and older. McCain holds a slight edge among those ages 50 to 64, while voters ages 35 to 49 are evenly split between the two candidates.

The gender gap that has marked voting nationwide in recent elections is very pronounced among North Carolina voters in the presidential race. McCain holds a 14-point margin among men, while Obama has a 12-point edge among women, according to the poll.

"Twenty-six points is a huge gender gap," Davis said. "It shows a strong feeling among women that Obama is better able to deal with the issue of the day – jobs and the economy."

More than three-fifths of those surveyed cited the economy as the most pressing issue for the nation, followed by national security at 12 percent and taxes at 7 percent.

Obama holds a slight edge among voters as being more able to handle the economy, while McCain is clearly the preferred candidate on the issues of national security and the war in Iraq – he holds double-digit leads among voters as being the more capable candidate.

Independent voters could hold the key, Davis said, noting the poll shows Obama leads McCain by 53 to 43 percent among unaffiliated voters.

"People are really thinking about the issues and the candidates in this election," Davis said.