Voter perceptions regarding character issues are often cited as a key factor in the outcome of presidential elections. According to a new FOX News poll, results are mixed as to whether Barack Obama or John McCain is better suited to pass this year’s "character" test with voters.
With Election Day less than a month away, major questions still linger on a range of measures dealing with the personal make-up of the presidential contenders. On the one hand, voters see Obama (by a 41 percent to 26 percent margin) as being more likely than McCain to hide the truth about his background and past associations.
On the other hand, by a nearly two-to-one margin (51 percent to 27 percent) more voters think McCain is waging a negative rather than a positive campaign against his rival.
The national telephone poll was conducted for FOX News by Opinion Dynamics Corp. among 900 registered voters from Oct. 8 to Oct. 9. The poll has a 3-point error margin.
When it comes to whether the candidates are putting their country first or their campaigns first, there is a bit more agreement. While a majority sees McCain putting the country first (54 percent), a strong plurality (48 percent) takes the same view of Obama.
And, a solid majority of voters (56 percent) think the Illinois senator — unlike his Republican counterpart—is running a positive campaign. However, among the critical bloc of independent voters, more think Obama puts his campaign first (44 percent) rather than his country (41 percent). Independents have no such qualms about McCain — 55 percent think he puts country over campaign.
There is some degree of consensus on the issues of honesty and trustworthiness. Identical percentages of voters (60 percent) feel both candidates share that character attribute. However, the number of voters who think McCain is not honest and trustworthy has increased 5 percentage points since last measured in April.
This new poll also indicates the controversy surrounding Obama’s relationship with his former pastor Jeremiah Wright has not faded away. In fact, a majority of voters (54 percent) do not believe Obama’s contention that — despite attending services for 20 years — he never heard Rev. Wright make any anti-American comments. Slightly more independent voters (55 percent) don’t believe Obama on this score.
There has also been discussion of Obama’s relationship with 1960s radical activist William Ayers — linked to bomb plots against the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol. Almost one-third of all voters (32 percent) say they’d be less likely to vote for Obama knowing of this connection — although the vast majority (61 percent) say it will have no effect on their vote. Somewhat fewer independent voters express reduced likelihood to vote for Obama based on the Ayers information — although, at 29 percent, it is still a potential liability among this key voter group.
McCain’s relationship with Charles Keating — linked to a 1980s savings and loan scandal — results in far less disinclination (16 percent) to vote for the Arizona senator. In fact, almost 4 in 5 voters (78 percent) say the Keating connection would have no impact on their vote. Only 12 percent of independent voters are less likely to vote for McCain based on this information.
All in all, it appears from these data that voters are not fully convinced that either major candidate is completely pristine on matters of character. They see pluses and minuses for both men. Whether these perceptions have any real bearing on the outcome of the election remains unclear.
Ernie Paicopolos is a principal at Opinion Dynamics Corporation.