Is The Presidential Election Close? Very Close According to Latest (and Last) Survey Before the Election

We have occasionally asked readers for their opinions on the presidential election. Our reader preference generally follows national trends. Readers expressed a preference as the nominee for each party earlier this year. As the campaign progressed, each candidate has come out on top at different times. Here are the results of our last survey before the presidential election of 2008.

The shifting preferences in the American race for president have been volatile this year. We have periodically asked readers their opinion on the candidates. The federal workforce is large, diverse, and pays attention to political issues–probably much more attention than the average American–and the results of these informal surveys have been consistent with national trends in the election process. In some cases, going back through the last election cycle in 2004, the opinions of our readers presaged similar trends among the general electorate.

Early this year, readers expressed a preference for Barack Obama and John McCain from among the crowded field in both parties as candidates fought to win the nomination of their respective parties. As we all know now, these two eventually were selected and are still out seeking votes for the election next week.

Several months ago, reader opinion reflected the very close national race and our readers voiced their opinions with John McCain barely edging out Barack Obama by a margin of 3%.

When we next asked readers for their opinion, the margin widened considerably. In early August, John McCain was a clear favorite with a margin of 15%.

But, again reflecting a national trend, Obama came out as the preference among our readers over McCain in a survey taken in late September. In this survey, Senator Obama had a lead of 7%.

With the election finally coming to a close, we asked readers for their opinion one last time. The survey closed yesterday. The vast majority of those responding (99%!) indicated that they will be voting or have already voted in the early voting allowed in some states.

In this unusual election, reader preference has now shifted back to Senator McCain. By a margin of 5%, readers expressed a preference for McCain over Obama. Here is a quick summary of the results.

1.  If the election were being held today, which of the following candidates would receive your vote for President of the U.S.? Total Responses Percentage Grand Total
Barack Obama 1608 46% 3531
John McCain 1804 51% 3531
Other 79 2% 3531
Undecided 40 1% 3531
2.  Do you intend to vote in this year’s election (or have you already voted)? Total Responses Percentage Grand Total
yes 3480 99% 3531
no 30 1% 3531
undecided 21 1% 3531

There has been a wide variety among the various polling organizations with regard to this presidential race. In fact, a widely read article says that this year has some professional pollsters and academics concerned as some national polls showed Obama ahead by as much as 15 points while others showed a lead of two points. “[W]hat are the “unknown unknowns” about polling this year: For instance, is the sizable cohort of people who don’t respond to pollsters more Republican-leaning this year, perhaps because they don’t want to admit to a pollster that they are not supporting the “voguish” Obama?”

Moreover, federal employee unions are giving most of their money to Senator Obama and to other Democrats.

With this background, why would there be a preference for Senator McCain in our latest survey?

We cannot answer definitively and we have not asked readers about this issue. One obvious conclusion is that federal employee unions give money to candidates that will do the most to advance the institutional interests of their organization. Federal employees are independent-minded people, who keep up with politics, and many are not swayed in their vote by the political preference of a union that represents some federal employees but does not necessarily have the same opinions as many or even most of the employees in an agency.

In addition, federal employees have a wide variety of interests. They are generally older than the average American and many (as we have been warned repeatedly) will be retiring in the next five years. While we generally think of the typical federal employee as working for a large agency in Washington, DC, many of our readers work throughout the world in regional cities, rural areas, and at bases overseas. We also have a large number of readers who are retired federal employees who can live anywhere they choose.

Recent polls show that this presidential race is getting closer. This recent survey may reflect a trend that highlights the “unknown, unknowns” in this presidential race and will lead to Senator McCain being the next president. But the absence of other voters (such as college students) in our universe of readers may mean that Senator Obama will prevail in this race.

In any event, in this recent survey, the race is still very close. The opinions sent in by hundreds of readers shows two distinct schools of thought on the candidates. The written opinions are always interesting because they show what people are thinking, what moves them to vote for a candidate, and the opinions are frequently unvarnished. A small number, unfortunately, are so unvarnished we could not consider publishing them but we have selected a small sample that indicate the mindset of the voters who participated in this survey.

Those readers who expressed a preference for McCain often cited their concern about the policies of “socialism” or “distribution of wealth” that they see as being the philosophical underpinnings for Obama. Those expressing a preference for Obama often said they see McCain as being very similar to President George Bush and they also often cite Obama’s ability to inspire people.

Here is a small sample of what our readers had to say about the candidates.

A molecular biologist from Wooster, OH likes Obama’s leadership qualities: “Obama demonstrates intelligence, integrity and the rare ability to see and deal with the big picture. The US needs his leadership to bring back the ideals we all used to believe in.”

An attorney with the FDIC in Chicago is also an Obama supporter: “The great respect I once held for McCain has been eroded by his continued insistence on “trickle down” economics, his alarming proposal for an across the board freeze on spending by federal agencies, the unprincipled way he has run his campaign and his choice as VP.”

A program manager with the USDA in Washington favors McCain: “What has Barack Obama demonstrated other than that he is a gifted orator and a highly disciplined, ambitious man who can make a brilliant presentation? How do we know that he would govern well? What guarantee is there that he would or could keep those incredible campaign promises? How can we afford in these tenuous times to elect an untested leader whose own VP stated “will be tested by an incident in the first six months” in office?”

A federal retiree from Shawnee Mission, Kansas has a strong opinion: “Obama talks the talk, although the talk clearly includes raising taxes, redistributing wealth (says he will “spread it around”, — isn’t this clearly socialism?), and sitting down with terrorists, rather, apparently, than trying to defend us against them. He would take away our weapons, both those controlled by our military, as well as those owned by private citizens. In the extremely small amount of time he has been an elected official, he has taken more money from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac than almost anyone else in Congress….”

An FAA employee from Florida expressed this succinct view: “Obama, You must be joking. Socialism never solved anything.”

An IRS analyst from Washington, DC has doubts about McCain: “Is it really good for America to elect a 72 year old president who has selected a vice presidential running mate who is obviously unqualified to step in as President – should something unfortunate happen to him.”

A rangeland management specialist from the Forest Service in Utah also has strong feelings about Obama: “I attended an Obama rally. I felt as though my heart was going to burst out of my chest with the overwhelming feeling in the air of unity, hope and caring for every person in this great nation and the world. Yep, it was that awesome! Finally, a leader that is not as crooked as a dogs hind leg.”

A manager with EPA in Philadelphia says McCain is the better choice: “Obama has charisma, but is lacking in leadership experience and accomplishments. He has run a better campaign, but the “fluff” does not carry much weight for me. For me, McCain has the “right stuff” to be the Commander-in-Chief and to lead us in foreign policy. Also, he has significantly more experience in working with the other party (which is desperately needed).”

A biological technician from Newtown Square, PA commented: “There is no way in you know what that I will vote for John McCain as he could die in office and we would be left with the dimwit from Alaska as President. Now that is a truly scary thought.”

A policy and system analyst from the Railroad Retirement Board in Chicago was succinct: “Four more years of what we have now would be a BAD thing!!!!”

A consumer safety inspector from USDA in Massachusetts commented: “I voted for McCain because I feel he will do the least amount of damage to our country. We don’t need socialism.”

An inspector with the Marine Corps in Hawaii is voting for Obama: “McCain is another Bush. We will be fighting in Iraq forever if he is elected, the Iran, he will continue ruin the economy as Bush has. Continued attacks against Government workers and contracting out their jobs to his friends, as he is doing in Iraq.”

An auditor with the Dept. of Interior offered this short, succinct opinion: “No third term, bring our troops home.”

An ATF agent from Washington favors McCain: “McCain has consistently bucked the Washington system as has a long standing record of following neither party. Instead choosing to follow his own principles. My concern with Obama is his lack of any record in congress and all the financial strings that will be tied to him. I don’t care what anyone says if someone gives you money you will be obligated to help them out.”

A retired Army employee from Springboro, OH has strong views about Obama: “Obama is the least qualified person to ever run for President!! He is a smooth talker in an empty suit. He would make a great used car salesman!!! I know VERY FEW people who are not MORE QUALIFIED than Obama to be President.”

An information security specialist from DoD in Ohio said: “I cannot vote for a marxist/socialist. Put the Democrats in power and let them screw up health care on equal with the failing social security fund. Also add in the proposed govt takeover of 401(K) accounts to be ran by the social security administration. Oh, almost forgot, the Employee No Choice act that will take away the right of a secret ballot vote to unionize more workplaces. When you look back after the election and all you have left in your pocket is “Change” remember you voted for it.”

A USDA retiree from Wisconsin had this comment: “McCain respects the military, they respect him. Obama has never served in any military capacity, and will only shake the hands of the generals, walks right by the foot solders on the ground. Will not even address them, he is really a poor excuse for a man even!”

An HR specialist from Treasury in Dallas predicts a landslide: “The silent majority has had enough. This will be a landslide for Obama.”

An IT specialist from DFAS in Indianapolis is focused on a different issue: “I am not an abortion extremist, nor am I a one-issue voter, but Obama’s position on abortion is so extreme that it disqualifies him from consideration. He has voted FOR partial-birth abortion and AGAINST the Infants Born Alive Protection Act (in Illinois Senate).”

An attorney with the Dept. of Labor in Washington favors Obama: “This is a no-brainer. Obama is smart, organized, sincere, capable and so is Biden – and they want to bring Americans together- not be divisive like Bush and McCain.”

And an electronics technician from NOAA in Pennsylvania had a unique comment: “[F]or a real change to the direction we’re going in this country a vote for either Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader would be a wise choice.”

Our thanks to all readers who took the time to participate in this survey and a special thanks to those who also sent in their written opinions.