As Election Day Nears, Poll Shows Obama Leads McCain

By Jennifer Agiesta and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 25, 2008; 5:00 PM

Handling terrorism and the war in Iraq continue to be relative strengths for John McCain, but few voters cite either issue as their top concern, limiting the Republican nominee's options for reframing the debate to his advantage as Election Day approaches.

In the Washington Post-ABC News daily tracking poll on Saturday, Obama has an overall lead of 53 percent to 44 percent among likely voters, but McCain draws even with the Illinois senator on the question of who voters trust to deal with terrorism and Iraq policy.

A majority of independent voters side with McCain in these areas.

Both overall and among those crucial swing voters in the middle, McCain's positioning on Iraq and terrorism is significantly better than it is on the economy, where Obama continues to hold a double-digit advantage.

Fifty-one percent of all voters call the economy the No. 1 issue in deciding their presidential choice., and Obama is winning these voters handily, by a 62 to 35 percent margin.

By contrast, among those who said terrorism is their top concern, 95 percent back McCain. The problem for the Arizona senator is that these voters make up only five percent of the likely electorate.

And while voters are evenly divided between the rivals about which one is the more trusted to deal with Iraq -- 49 percent side with each -- Obama has a 59 percent to 38 percent lead among "Iraq voters," the eight percent of the electorate that calls Iraq their central voting issue.

Obama leads by a similar 57 percent to 39 percent margin among the four percent of voters who are primarily focused on energy issues, and he has his biggest advantage, 70 percent to 27 percent, among those who single out health care as their top voting matter.

McCain counters with a wide, better than 2 to 1 advantage among those who call out other issues as their primary concern. But his 65 to 30 percent margin may be harder to expand, since it is a catch-all category that includes many disparate other issues.

And even on dealing with Iraq and terrorism, Obama has basically muted what were important selling points for George W. Bush in his re-election bid.

A week before the 2004 election, Bush held a nine-point advantage over Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) as the more trusted to handle Iraq and a similar eight-point edge on heading up the U.S. campaign against terrorism.

In the new poll, 49 percent trust McCain more on terrorism, 47 percent side with Obama. These numbers have not changed since mid-October, nor have voters' perceptions about which candidate would be better on Iraq over that period.

Complete data from the Post-ABC daily tracking poll is available at

Assistant polling analyst Kyle Dropp contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company