In the inaugural Big Ten Battleground Poll taken as the nation's financial crisis worsened this week, John McCain and Barack Obama were in a statistical dead heat in seven of the eight Midwest states included in the survey.
The individual surveys of 600 randomly selected registered voters in each of the states were conducted by phone from Sept. 14-17 and were co-directed by University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientists Charles Franklin and Ken Goldstein and colleagues from participating universities. The polls each have a margin of error of 4 percentage points. The states included in the poll were Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota.
The eight states home to the 11 universities in the Big Ten conference were key battlegrounds in the 2004 election, and the results of the poll show that they are among the most competitive in the country and are likely to be pivotal in determining the election outcome.
The surveys show a tight race in all of the Big Ten states except for Obama's home state of Illinois, where he holds a 16-point lead over McCain. The two candidates are tied in Iowa and Pennsylvania, and Obama has just a one-point lead in Ohio and Wisconsin. McCain is ahead in just one state - Indiana - where he leads by 4 percentage points.
"The close margins in the vast majority of states show that whatever the effects were immediately after the national party conventions, these states have moved back to a highly competitive status, with neither candidates having a clear lead, except in Illinois," said Franklin, co-developer of Pollster.com.
The poll also included a nationally representative sample of 1,114 respondents, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points. That survey shows Obama with a one-point margin over McCain.
"We all expected this to be tight - it's extraordinarily tight," said Goldstein, director of the Wisconsin Advertising Project, which tracks political ads on television. "What it's really going to come down to is the next president is going to be the one to win the Big Ten."
Across all states in the Midwest poll, voters overwhelmingly said the country is going in the wrong direction, and President George W. Bush has a favorability rating ranging from 30 percent to 40 percent. More than eight in 10 voters in the poll think the nation's economy has gotten worse during the last year.
McCain and Obama both have favorable ratings above 50 percent in each of the eight states, while Sarah Palin was viewed favorably by about half of voters across the region, with anywhere from 12 percent to 18 percent of voters in each state having no opinion of the Republican vice presidential candidate.
Much of the debate in the presidential campaign has centered on change, and the majority of voters in each of the eight states said Obama was the better candidate to bring about change. More than two-thirds of voters in each state said McCain was the more experienced candidate. Voters were split about evenly in each of the states on the question of which candidate shares their values.
Obama has an advantage among women in the region, including double-digit leads over McCain in Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Among Catholic voters, McCain leads in five of the eight states and by large margins in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The poll found Catholics in Indiana and Illinois favor Obama by significant margins.
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 at 3 p.m. CDT (4 p.m. EDT) today (Sept. 18) on the Big Ten Network.
Universities participating in the partnership are the University of Illinois, the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Penn State University and UW-Madison.
The Big Ten Battleground Poll will be repeated in mid-October, with the results presented in another installment of the show on the Big Ten Network. For more details about the poll, including a list of poll contacts at each of the participating universities, visit http://www.bigtenpoll.org.