Obama Up by 10 Points as McCain Favorability Ratings Fall

Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, campaigns in Holland, Ohio, near Toledo.
Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, campaigns in Holland, Ohio, near Toledo. (By Joe Raedle -- Getty Images)
By Anne E. Kornblut and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 13, 2008

With just over three weeks until Election Day, the two presidential nominees appear to be on opposite trajectories, with Sen. Barack Obama gaining momentum and Sen. John McCain stalled or losing ground on a range of issues and personal traits, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Overall, Obama is leading 53 percent to 43 percent among likely voters, and for the first time in the general-election campaign, voters gave the Democrat a clear edge on tax policy and providing strong leadership.

McCain has made little headway in his attempts to convince voters that Obama is too "risky" or too "liberal." Rather, recent strategic shifts may have hurt the Republican nominee, who now has higher negative ratings than his rival and is seen as mostly attacking his opponent rather than addressing the issues that voters care about. Even McCain's supporters are now less enthusiastic about his candidacy, returning to levels not seen since before the Republican National Convention.

Conversely, Obama's pitch to the middle class on taxes is beginning to sink in; nearly as many said they think their taxes would go up under a McCain administration as under an Obama presidency, and more see their burdens easing with the Democrat in the White House.

The poll was conducted after Tuesday night's debate, which most voters said did not sway their opinions much. Still, voters' impressions of Obama are up, and views of McCain have slipped.

Nearly two-thirds of voters, 64 percent, now view Obama favorably, up six percentage points from early September. About a third of voters have a better opinion of the senator from Illinois because of his debate performances, while 8 percent have a lower opinion of him. By contrast, more than a quarter said they think worse of McCain as a result of the debates, more than double the proportion saying their opinion had improved. McCain's overall rating has also dipped seven points, to 52 percent, over the past month.

With the final debate set for Wednesday at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., McCain faces a narrowing window in which to reverse course.

Among the reasons McCain's path to victory seems steeper is that the percentage of "movable" voters continues to shrink. Thirteen percent of all voters are now either undecided or may change their mind before Election Day, down somewhat from recent polls.

Relatively high numbers of movable voters this year have led to poll swings. While McCain and Obama ran nearly even in Post-ABC polling for months, the financial crisis began to accelerate in mid-September -- and so did Obama, stretching to a nine-point lead. That lead narrowed slightly, to four points, after the first presidential debate, then widened again to its current 10 points.

Adding to McCain's burden as the standard-bearer for the party in power is an unprecedented grim view of the country overall: Ninety percent of Americans now see the country as headed in the wrong direction, the worst rating in polls dating to 1973.

There is also near-universal concern for the direction of the nation's economy over the next few years, growing fear that the stock market will perform poorly, and worry that household finances will suffer, factors that contribute to President Bush's approval rating hitting another low.

Twenty-three percent of all adults -- and 18 percent of political independents -- gave the president good marks, putting him within a point of Harry S. Truman's record low in a February 1952 Gallup poll. The low ratings continue to have a dampening effect on McCain: More than half of voters, 51 percent, said that McCain, if elected, would largely continue to lead the country in the direction Bush has, and those voters overwhelmingly prefer Obama.

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