We’ve still got eight months till election day, so it’s going to be a long – and no doubt dirty – slog. And at the end, it’ll all be aimed at capturing a few more undecided voters than the other guy.
The Pew Research Center for People and the Press has a new poll that provides some good benchmarks for where things stand as the campaign gets underway in earnest.
Here are some key numbers:
In a head-to-head matchup, Sen. John Kerry has a slight lead over President Bush (48% to 44%). The poll’s margin of error is about 3.5%, so statistically they enjoy quite comparable support.
Pew found that 38% of voters strongly support Kerry and wouldn’t switch, while 33% feel that way about Bush.
In the middle are 29% who are “undecided.” I put quotes around “undecided” because of this group 13% are leaning toward Bush and 10% are leaning toward Kerry. Since these people are not fully committed to a candidate, some could change their minds and go the other way. But most probably will follow their current leanings. That leaves just 6% of the electorate truly undecided. This small group of people (and those whose allegiances to one candidate or the other are weak enough to be swayed) will decide the election.
Most of these “swing voters” have positive views of both candidates, Pew found. (You can bet that tens of millions of dollars will be spent by each side trying to lower their opponent's "positives.") Swing voters tend to support Bush on the “war on terrorism” and to be pessimistic about the economy, which they think Bush could be doing more to improve.
A detailed analysis of the results is available here.