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Top Pollster Sees Close US Presidential Race

A new Associated Press poll gives Democrat Barack Obama a six-point lead over Republican John McCain in the U.S. presidential race. But, a leading pollster tells VOA he expects a close race for the White House in November. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center and a leading pollster both in the United States and abroad, said on VOA's Press Conference USA program, to air August 9, that the presidential race between Senators Obama and McCain likely will remain close right up to Election Day in November.

"My guess is that it will stay close. I think there is a potential for Obama to open up a wide lead. I can't imagine McCain opening up a wide lead. I can imagine McCain winning, but if he wins it is going to be a close race. There is some potential for Obama to open it up. This one has been so unexpected that it is wise to stay out of the prediction business," he said.

Like most other pollsters, Kohut gives Obama a lead at the moment. But Kohut says Obama's advantage is not as great as one would expect given the Democratic Party's general advantage in this year's election campaign.

"In our poll, Obama has about a five point lead over Senator McCain. That is much closer than we would have guessed a Republican would be running against a Democrat six months ago because all of the advantages in this election are with the Democrats. There is great unhappiness with President Bush. Less than one in five Americans are happy with national conditions. Generally presidential elections are referendums on the times and the Republicans represent the status quo and the Democrats the change," he said.

Kohut also tells VOA that the Pew Research polls have picked up an amazing amount of international interest in the U.S. presidential race. "We did a 24-nation poll back in April and early May and we were stunned by the level of public interest in the American presidential campaign. Majorities in many countries said they were paying somewhat close attention to what is going on. In Japan, for example, we had 83 percent of Japanese respondents saying they were paying either very or fairly close attention. That was three points higher than what we were getting in the United States," he said.

Kohut and many other political pollsters and analysts expect U.S. voters will begin to focus more sharply on the election after the national party conventions in late August and early September.

"More people are thinking about going to the beach or going to the mountains than they are thinking about who they are going to vote for in November. So summer polls always have a certain element of not being spot on. My own feeling is that let's wait and go through the conventions and see what happens, and see how they emerge from the conventions because I think the American people are going to have a better idea about Senator Obama after the conventions," said Clay Richards, a pollster with Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

The Democrats hold their nominating convention the last week of August in Denver, Colorado, while the Republicans meet the first week of September in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.