Six months before the general election, public perceptions of the relative strengths and weaknesses of presumptive Republican nominee John McCain and Democratic front-runner Barack Obama are relatively static, though recent shifts on leadership, empathy and personal ethics hint at the battles to come.
The two months of campaigning in the time since we last checked in on perceptions of these two candidates have done little to change minds. In comparing McCain and Obama on eight key candidate attributes in the new Washington Post-ABC News poll, McCain continues to be seen as the more experienced candidate and the one with better knowledge of world affairs, while Obama is broadly seen as the one who would do more to affect change, with the better personality for the job and with a clearer vision for the future.
But the two candidates have become more evenly matched on the question of who is the stronger leader and who has higher personal and ethical standards. Obama erased McCain's double-digit edge as the stronger leader (in the new poll, Obama also for the first time bests Hillary Clinton, his rival for the Democratic nomination, on this measure), while McCain closed a 12-point gap as the candidate with higher personal and ethical standards.
Obama maintains a wide advantage as the more empathetic candidate, but the margin between the two candidates narrowed slightly from 27 points to 19.
To overtake McCain on the leadership front, Obama has some convincing to do among fellow Democrats. About a quarter of Democrats call McCain the stronger leader, compared with 12 percent of GOPers who choose Obama on this score.
McCain's progress on empathy comes largely from bringing Republicans back into the fold, in March, 55 percent of Republicans said he was the candidate who better understands their problems; now 66 percent do.
And on personal and ethical standards, more than one in five partisans are "cross-overs," choosing the other party's standard bearer as the one with higher standards. Obama cedes more than a third of Clinton supporters on this question, while McCain surrenders a quarter of conservatives.
Q. Regardless of who you may support, who do you think...
a. is the stronger leader
Obama McCain Obama -McCain 5/11/08 46 42 -4 3/2/08 51 40 -11
b. has the better experience to be president
Obama McCain Obama -McCain 5/11/08 71 18 -53 3/2/08 70 19 -51
c. would do more to bring needed change to Washington
Obama McCain Obama -McCain 5/11/08 29 59 +30 3/2/08 31 56 +25
d. has a better personality and temperament to be president
Obama McCain Obama -McCain 5/11/08 32 56 +24 3/2/08 28 57 +29
e. better understands the problems of people like you
Obama McCain Obama -McCain 5/11/08 35 54 +19 3/2/08 29 56 +27
f. has a clearer vision for the future
Obama McCain Obama -McCain 5/11/08 34 54 +20 3/2/08 32 53 +21
g. has higher personal and ethical standards
Obama McCain Obama -McCain 5/11/08 41 42 -1 3/2/08 31 43 +12
h. has better knowledge of world affairs
Obama McCain Obama -McCain 5/11/08 65 24 -41 3/2/08 64 24 -40