Politics & Government

Poll suggests Deep South is a long shot for Obama

Republican Sen. John McCain enjoys a 16-point lead – 51 percent to 35percent – among Southern voters over rival Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, a new poll by Winthrop University and ETV shows.

And, the deeper south you go, the larger McCain's lead grows, the poll of likely voters in 11 Southern states shows.

Likely voters in the Deep South – Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina – preferred McCain by a 25-point margin, 56 percent to 31 percent.

Southern voters said what they want most in a president is honesty, experience and shared values. They rated McCain ahead of Obama in each of those categories.

McCain's strongest support comes from white working-class Southerners – who favor him by a 34-point margin – and white evangelicals – who favor the Arizonan by 54 percentage points.

The poll, conducted Aug. 1-17, has a margin of error of 2.97 percentage points.

While pundits have made much of Obama and Democrats trying to win over a Southern state or two from the Republicans in November, the poll indicates that will prove difficult.

Rather than attempting to contest the presidential race across the South, a wiser strategy for Obama would be to concentrate on the closely contested Southern states, said Scott Huffmon, associate professor of political science at Winthrop and director of the Winthrop/ETV Poll. “You cannot fight a regional battle anymore.”

Individual state-by-state polls have shown Obama in striking distance of McCain in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia.

Those states account for 70 votes that are up for grabs. The 11 Southern states in this poll will award 161 electoral votes; 270 are needed to win the presidency.

The economy easily was the most important issue to Southern voters in the election. McCain bested Obama on which candidate would handle energy and gas prices better, and who would do the better job on taxes.

McCain also far out-distanced Obama on the Iraq war, terrorism and illegal immigration.

However, in a glimmer of hope for the Democratic nominee-to-be, more likely Southern voters polled said Obama “understands the problems Americans face in their daily lives” better than McCain does.