Obama Leads by 8 Points In Poll

If Barack Obama's historic campaign to become the first black president boosts black turnout as drastically as he predicts, he could crack decades of Republican dominance across the South. Video by AP
By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama holds his biggest advantage of the presidential campaign as the candidate best prepared to fix the nation's ailing economy, but lingering concerns about his readiness to handle international crises are keeping the race competitive, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Overall, the Democrat has a lead of 50 percent to 42 percent over Republican Sen. John McCain among registered voters nationwide, lifted by a big edge among women, and he has also regained an edge among political independents. But it is Obama's 19-point lead on the economy that has become a particularly steep challenge for McCain.

Economic concerns continue to eclipse other issues, with half the country saying the economy will be "extremely important" to their vote. Gasoline and energy prices, which voters rarely mentioned at the start of the year, come in just behind. The Iraq war, which was again the subject of direct engagement between Obama and McCain yesterday, ranks third. A cluster of domestic issues, including education, health care and Social Security, ranked behind the war, as did the issue of terrorism.

Obama continues to hold an edge over McCain on many domestic policy areas.

The campaign is playing out against the backdrop of a leadership crisis in Washington, with Americans remaining in a generally sour mood about their representatives in the nation's capital. In the new survey, President Bush's overall approval rating hit another record low in Post-ABC polling: Twenty-eight percent said they approve of the way he is handling his job, while 69 percent disapprove, including 56 percent who strongly disapprove.

Public impressions of Congress are even worse, with 23 percent giving the legislative branch a positive rating. That is the lowest public assessment of Congress since October 1994, just before Republicans seized control of both houses for the first time since 1954. While congressional Democrats, with 35 percent approval, remain more popular than their Republican counterparts, who have 25 percent approval, both are rated negatively.

The overall political climate still bodes poorly for Republicans this fall, but the presidential race is relatively close, in part because of persistent doubts about both candidates. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said that some things about McCain worry them, and nearly two-thirds said so of Obama.

Questions about Obama's experience remain, particularly his ability to deal with national security and international issues. Forty-nine percent of those surveyed said that his level of experience would hamper his ability to serve effectively as president, while 40 percent said it would help. And asked whether he would make a good commander in chief, 48 percent said yes.

While 56 percent of respondents said Obama knows enough about world affairs to be a good president, 72 percent said so about McCain. Head to head, McCain was judged as the one with greater knowledge of the world by more than 2 to 1. The senator from Arizona also holds a narrow edge as the candidate better suited to deal with an unexpected major crisis, and he is more trusted, by a six-point margin, on the issue of fighting terrorism.

In other areas, however, there is more parity between the two candidates. On handling the situation with Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and international affairs in general, about as many trust Obama as McCain, just as is the case with the war in Iraq, where 47 percent have more confidence in McCain and 45 percent in Obama.

The senator from Illinois has begun to take steps to boost his foreign policy credentials, with a major speech yesterday on Iraq, Afghanistan and other international challenges. He is preparing a trip that will further raise his profile, with scheduled visits to Iraq, Afghanistan, other Middle Eastern countries and major European capitals.

Part of his goal will be to demonstrate that an Obama presidency would help restore the United States' image around the world, which 82 percent of the respondents in the new poll said has been badly damaged during Bush's presidency. By 2 to 1, Americans think that Obama would do more to improve the country's image abroad than McCain would.

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