The global financial meltdown has caused a dramatic shift in the 2008 presidential race, according to the latest NEWSWEEK poll. With four weeks left in the presidential campaign, Barack Obama now leads John McCain by double digits, 52 percent to 41 percent among registered voters—a marked shift from the last NEWSWEEK poll, conducted one month ago, when the two candidates were tied at 46 percent.
Underlying Obama's surge in support: An historic boiling over of dissatisfaction with the status quo. An astounding 86 percent of voters now say they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States, while a mere 10 percent say they are satisfied. That's the highest wrong track/right track ratio ever recorded in the NEWSWEEK poll.
For context on just how toxic these numbers could be for the Republic party, consider that in October, 2006, weeks before the Democrats swept control of both houses of Congress, only 61 percent of voters expressed dissatisfaction. Twenty-five percent of voters say they approve of the job President Bush is doing in the White House, a record low for any president in the NEWSWEEK poll and close to the historic low-approval rating of 22 percent the Gallup poll recorded for President Truman, in 1952. Voters are crying out for change and, for now, believe that the Democratic presidential candidate has a greater likelihood of delivering it. Asked which ticket they thought was most likely to bring about change if elected, voters said Obama-Biden over McCain-Palin 52 percent to 37 percent. A month ago, Obama-Biden led by only five points, 47 percent to 42 percent.
Obama appears to have broadened his coalition of support and made inroads with groups that have not reliably embraced him over the course of the long presidential campaign. He now leads McCain among both men (54 percent to 40 percent) and women (50 percent to 41 percent). He now wins every age group of voters—including those over 65 years of age, who back him over McCain 49 to 43 percent. Supporters of Hillary Clinton, as many as a fifth of whom had at one point told pollsters they'd support McCain over Obama, now back the Democratic nominee 88 percent to 7 percent.
One topic, the economy, is clearly driving Obama's spike. Asked which issue was most important in determining their vote, 48 percent of those surveyed said the economy. (The next highest was taxes and government and spending, which 10 percent of voters identified as their number one issue; only 8 percent named the Iraq war as their most important issue.) Asked which candidate would better handle a variety of issues, voters chose Obama over McCain in every single category with the exception of national security and terrorism; McCain still leads on that front 50 percent to 40 percent. Obama now leads McCain on the economy and jobs (54 percent to 35 percent); on the Iraq war (47 percent to 46 percent); on energy policy and gas prices (53 percent to 36 percent); on health care (56 percent to 30 percent); on taxes and government spending (50 percent to 39 percent); on the financial problems of Wall Street and the mortgage crisis (50 percent to 34 percent); and on issues like abortion, guns and same-sex marriage (46 percent to 39 percent).
Still, the poll suggests that despite his lead and the extremely favorable conditions for a Democratic candidate, Obama has not yet established himself as the firm choice of swing voters. In fact, McCain, who has banked on a large and deep reservoir of goodwill from middle-of-the-road voters, still leads Obama among independents, albeit by only two points (45 percent to 43 percent). That's actually a slightly better showing for McCain than in the September NEWSWEEK poll, when Obama led McCain 44 percent to 43 percent among voters who described themselves as Independent. Party identification, it should be noted, can change significantly month to month, and voters may be particularly inclined to self-identify as Democrats in a year when Democrats are favored over Republicans. Among white Catholics, a group that has voted with the winner of every American presidential contest since 1960, Obama leads McCain by only one point (48 percent to 47 percent).
The poll suggests that the McCain campaign's strategy of sharp attacks on Obama's character have not yet had their desired effect and may, in fact, be backfiring. In recent days, McCain's campaign—and, in particular, his running mate, Sarah Palin—have sought to highlight Obama's ties to the '60s radical William Ayers and paint the Democratic nominee as outside of the mainstream. But 60 percent of voters said they have a favorable view of Obama, while 36 percent said they viewed the Democratic candidate unfavorably. That's actually an improvement from a month ago, when Obama's favorable to unfavorable ratio was 57 to 37. In the same period, McCain's favorability rating has decreased, from 57 percent in September to 51 percent today, while his unfavorable percentage have risen, 36 to 45.
Further, 59 percent of voters in the poll said Obama shares their values, compared to 37 percent who said he does not. By contrast, 47 percent of voters said McCain shares their values while 49 percent said he does not. Forty-eight percent of voters said Palin shares their values, while 47 percent said she does not.
Palin's support appears to be slipping. While 60 percent of voters think Palin would fit in well with their local community, only 39 percent of those surveyed say they believe McCain's running mate is qualified to serve as president, while 55 believe she is not.