Poll Shows 43 Percent of Voters Still Undecided

For all the passion this year's presidential campaign has stirred, more than four in 10 voters are still up for grabs.

Barack Obama and John McCain
Barack Obama and John McCain

The Olympics, summer vacations and back-to-school preparations are overshadowing politics for many right now. That should start changing when the two parties hold their nominating conventions — the Democrats later this month, the GOP in early September.

"I have two kids I'm worried about, so I have other priorities," said Rebecca Zens, 26, a student from Artesian, S.D., who said she is not happy with either Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama.

Forty-three percent of registered voters have not made final decisions on whom to support, according to a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll. That includes 15 percent leaning toward Obama or backing him while saying they could change their minds, and 16 percent tentatively supporting McCain. Another 8 percent are undecided, and 4 percent weakly back third-party candidates Ralph Nader or Bob Barr.

That's a bit more than were uncommitted at this stage in 2004, when an AP-Ipsos poll showed 37 percent in the same category. In that race President Bush, who is more familiar to the public than McCain, was seeking re-election.

These uncertain voters are gloomier than others about the country, with fewer than one in eight saying the U.S. is heading in the right direction. They also are likelier to be white and male and to consider themselves moderates and independents than those firmly committed to candidates.

Other polls shed light on how little urgency the presidential race has for many right now.

Just three in 10 adults said they are following the campaign very closely, according to a survey conducted in early August and late July by the non-partisan Pew Research Center.

In a poll early this month by CBS News, just 18 percent of uncommitted voters said they'd been paying a lot of attention to the race over the last few weeks — down from the 45 percent who said they were in mid-July.

The AP-Ipsos poll was conducted July 31-Aug. 4. It involved telephone interviews with 833 registered voters, for whom the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Past Plagues Both Candidates

McCain and Obama both have Achilles' heels in their resumes. So far, polls show the two men's efforts to cope with their problems have produced mixed results.

McCain, of course, belongs to a party headed by President Bush. Both the GOP and the president are unpopular, Bush spectacularly so, and McCain has to chart his own course while not alienating party loyalists.

Obama's professional experience is considered by some to be inadequate preparation for the White House. Before entering the Senate in 2005, the 47-year-old was an Illinois state legislator, law professor and community organizer.

Only 25 percent describe Obama as experienced, including just four in 10 Democrats, according to an Associated Press-Yahoo News poll conducted in June. Obama's dismal number has essentially never budged from earlier surveys last winter and spring.

More recent polls show the public still has little regard for his experience, including an ABC News-Washington Post survey in July showing 9 percent more think Obama's experience will hurt than help him.

On the other hand, a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll last month found just 40 percent looking for an experienced and tested candidate, compared to 55 percent preferring one who will bring greater changes. That would suggest Obama's job is to persuade the public that he is experienced enough while focusing his effort on the future.

As for McCain, there are hints he's successfully separated his image from his party's.

In the June AP-Yahoo News poll, the number viewing him favorably was 9 percentage points higher than the rating given the GOP. The more recent Journal-NBC survey found a similar result. He's also running better against Obama than the GOP does when people are asked whether they'd prefer an unnamed Democrat or Republican in the White House. In a danger sign, though, six in 10 in the AP-Yahoo News survey said they think McCain will follow Bush's policies.

Public Not Yet Focusing On Issues

Polls also make clear that so far, the public isn't focusing much on the issues.

In a Pew survey last month, just one in seven said they knew a lot about either candidate's views on the campaign's top issue so far, the economy. Half said they knew just some or very little.

The numbers were similar on foreign affairs, but somewhat better on Iraq. A Pew poll in June found a quarter didn't know Obama favors a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and nearly four in 10 didn't know McCain opposes one.

AP Director of Surveys Trevor Tompson and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.