Harris Poll: Obama Leads McCain on Environment Issues

A new Harris Poll measures the public's perceptions of which candidate would do better in handling 16 different policy issues. It finds that John McCain seems to be leading in defense issues while Barack Obama fares better with the domestic agenda.

However, the poll also shows that most people recognize that they do not have a very good understanding of the differences between the candidates' policies on the 16 issues covered in this poll.

These are the results of a Harris Poll of 2,315 adults who were surveyed online between Sept. 15 and 22. The most interesting findings of this new poll include:

•More adults believe McCain would be the better of the two main candidates in handling defense, homeland security, and keeping the United States safe from terrorism (he leads by 18 points), Afghanistan (+9), the Middle East (+8), Russia (+8), Iran (+7), gun control (+5) and Iraq (+5).

• Barack Obama is seen as the better of the two candidates on handling the environment (+22), education (+19), healthcare (+16), jobs and employment (+12), the economy (+10), gas prices (+8), energy policy (+7), and inflation (+5).

• Neither candidate has a significant advantage on trade or taxes.

• Only between 23 percent and 36 percent of the public say they understand "very well" the different policy proposals of the two.

So what?

People make their choices and cast their votes for many reasons both conscious and unconscious. Many voters think their decisions are based on the candidates' positions on the issues when they are not; it is a way of rationalizing their preferences. Furthermore, as this poll shows, most people have only a vague sense of the policies that candidates propose.

Nevertheless, it is clearly true that some issues do influence voter choices -- whether or not they are well informed -- and that many people have strong feelings that one candidate would handle an issue better or worse than the other candidate. In this Harris Poll®, figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region, and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online. Full data tables and methodology for this study can be found at www.harrisinteractive.com.

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