12:00 AM

Big Ten Battleground Poll: candidates in virtual tie

McCain and Obama are in a statistical dead heat in Ohio and six Midwest states, according to a new poll conducted by universities within the Big Ten Conference.

The Big Ten Battleground Poll, unveiled yesterday on the Big Ten Network, found that Ohioans are evenly divided between the candidates for president/vice-president; with 45.6% indicating that they would vote for or lean towards Obama-Biden "if the election were being held today," and 45.1% for McCain-Palin. Another 2.3% said that they would vote for a third party or independent candidate, and 4.8% were still undecided.

The regional poll – a partnership involving eight Big Ten universities – sampled approximately 600 individuals in each of the eight states containing Big Ten schools: Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota. 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, making the Midwest the central battleground for the presidency in 2008.

At Ohio State, the project was led by Paul Beck, professor of political science, along with professors Herb Asher and Herb Weisberg. A total of 619 Ohioans were interviewed by telephone in the survey conducted from Sept 14-17.

In Ohio, the poll showed self-identified Democrats outnumber self-identified Republicans in by a margin of 37% to 29%, with another 34% saying that they are independents.

Beck says, "The Obama-Biden ticket has not yet been able to capitalize fully on their partisan advantage because about twice as many Democrats (11%) as Republicans (6%) indicate that they will vote for the candidates from the opposing party. Independents also split 46% for McCain-Palin to 37% for Obama-Biden. Some of the defecting Democrats voted for Hillary Clinton in the Ohio primary and are not (yet?) willing to return to the Democratic fold by voting for Obama-Biden."

He says "Obama can win Ohio if he can draw more of these Democrats back to their party or improve his standing among independents. Independents in particular, about 9% of whom are still undecided, will be a critical battleground in this state. McCain will prevail if he can increase his edge among the independents and retain these Democratic defectors."

The poll also showed that, even more than residents of most other states, Ohioans are deeply concerned about the directions of the nation and the national economy, with 76% saying the country was generally going in the wrong direction, and 82% viewing the national economy as having worsened in the past year. They are more inclined than Americans nationwide to see their own state as on the wrong track.

Beck says, "This reflects the relatively weaker performance of the Ohio economy in recent years, including this year, and makes economic issues probably more important in Ohio than nationwide – in an election in which the economy will undoubtedly be the major issues on voters' agendas everywhere."

The Big Ten Battleground Poll will be repeated in mid-October. For more details about the poll, visit http//www.bigtenpoll.org.