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Most Voters Worry About Economy

The poll began the night after the first presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama. While a plurality of voters said Obama performed better than McCain, 38 percent to 24 percent, large numbers said it was a tie.
The poll began the night after the first presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama. While a plurality of voters said Obama performed better than McCain, 38 percent to 24 percent, large numbers said it was a tie. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
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By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Voters are deeply divided over the terms of the government's $700 billion economic rescue package but overwhelmingly fear that the House's rejection of the measure on Monday could deepen the country's financial woes, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

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A majority of voters see the turmoil in financial and credit markets as an economic "crisis," are guarded in their confidence that government action will resolve the situation and remain deeply pessimistic about the direction of the nation's economy. Concern about the House's rejection of the plan is widely shared across party lines.

Fluctuations on Wall Street continue to roil the presidential contest between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, the poll shows, with the economy still by far the dominant issue among voters with just five weeks to go before Election Day.

Negativity about the country's financial prospects continues to lift Obama, but he now has a narrower advantage over McCain in Post-ABC polling than he did last week. Overall, the senator from Illinois holds a slim lead in the new national poll, with likely voters dividing 50 percent for Obama and 46 percent for McCain.

In the last poll, Obama led by a nine-point margin. At that time, McCain advisers sharply criticized the results as being out of step with other surveys. Still, the new poll marks only the second time either of the candidates has reached 50 percent. Other national polls also indicate that Obama opened up a lead as the nation's economic situation deteriorated over the past two weeks.

The new survey began the night after the first presidential debate, held Friday at the University of Mississippi, and while a plurality of voters said Obama performed better than McCain, 38 percent to 24 percent, large numbers said it was essentially a tie or expressed no opinion.

Contrary to their advisers' hopes, the debate did not help either candidate deal with major vulnerabilities, in part because few voters said the performances changed their views.

Much of the debate dealt with foreign policy and national security, but Obama made no headway on the question of whether he would make a good commander in chief. As in previous polls, voters in the post-debate poll are evenly divided on his ability to manage the U.S. military -- 46 percent said he would be good in that role, while 48 percent said he would not.

The debate did not give Obama a boost on the commander-in-chief question, but he did edge up slightly on the query about his overall experience. In the new poll, a slim majority of voters said he has enough experience to be an effective president, a slight increase from the Sept. 5-7 Post-ABC poll.

For McCain, a major hindrance has been his perceived ties to the deeply unpopular Republican president. Slightly more than half of voters, 53 percent, said they think the senator from Arizona would lead the country in the same direction as President Bush, a small move up from a Post-ABC poll taken after the GOP convention early last month. Voters who see McCain's candidacy as a continuation of Bush's policies overwhelmingly back Obama.

The connection with Bush is a growing problem, as the sagging economy has added to the drag on public assessments of the president. Bush's approval rating has now dropped to an all-time low in Post-ABC polling, with 26 percent giving him positive marks for his performance and 70 percent giving him negative reviews.

Only two modern presidents -- Harry S. Truman and Richard M. Nixon -- have had lower approval ratings, and none has had higher disapproval numbers. On the economy, 22 percent said they approved of the way Bush is doing his job. That, too, is a new career low for him.


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