Something we're going to be doing with all of our polls for the rest of the campaign is asking respondents who they supported for President in 2004. If people answer that question honestly I think it's a better gauge for measuring shifts in the electorate than comparing our crosstabs to the 2004 exit polls, simply because a) our definitions of things like suburban, rural, etc. might not directly match up with those of the exit polls and b) there were some pretty serious flaws in the state exit polls that I have closely studied from that election so they should by no means be taken as the gospel.
In West Virginia Barack Obama has actually done a pretty good job of cutting Democratic losses from 2004 in the rural areas of the state. Respondents there indicated they supported George W. Bush at a 54-36 clip last time but now they're going for McCain just 50-40, an eight point gain for Obama.
I think this is the big story the media is missing when it so frequently conjures up Obama's increased success in the South almost exclusively to potential high turnout from black and young voters. The reality is that more than anything else it owes to convincing white voters who picked Bush in 2004 to go Democratic this time. In West Virginia, for example, 14% of 2004 Bush voters are now Obama supporters. More on the white voter shifts in our recent report here.
Another trend West Virginia exemplifies is that Obama will benefit considerably from the youth vote whether it makes up a larger proportion of the electorate than it did in 2004 or not. Poll respondents under 30 reported supporting Bush in 2004 44-40. But now they're going 46-41 for Obama. The support he is getting from young voters is not simply a matter of potential greater quantity of young voters than 2004- Obama's popularity with that demographic has a decent number of folks who chose the Republican last time going Democratic this time around.
Of course there is bad news for Obama in these comparisons as well:
-Self identified Democrats voted for John Kerry just 62-31 in 2004 and they're planning to support Obama only 62-29 this year. He would more than likely need to push that figure up beyond 70% if he is going to win the state but right now he appears to be showing little improvement upon Kerry's performance on that front.
-Even as Obama is doing five points better overall than Kerry did in the state in 2004, the Democratic standing with voters over 65 has fallen. Kerry held Bush to a 50-45 win with senior citizens in our poll. McCain is leading 52-41 with that some group of voters. For voters of a certain age there may just be a cultural discomfort with Obama that it will be hard for him to overcome.
We'll poll WV again in a couple weeks to see if these trends are holding.
Full results here.