Newsweek Poll: Obama Stays Well Ahead

With less than two weeks left in the presidential contest, Barack Obama continues to hold a commanding double-digit lead over John McCain according to the latest NEWSWEEK Poll. Among registered voters nationwide, Obama now leads McCain by 13 points, 53 percent to 40 percent. Among likely voters, Obama's lead is similarly strong, 53 percent to 41 percent.

Obama's lead in the NEWSWEEK Poll is consistent with other recent national polls, including soundings taken by CBS News and The New York Times, The Washington Post and ABC News, NBC News and The Wall Street Journal and by Pew Research, all of which measured Obama's lead over McCain as somewhere between 10 and 14 points. In the NEWSWEEK Poll, Obama's lead stayed virtually unchanged from two weeks ago, when he led McCain 52 to 41 among registered voters. (For the complete results, click here.)

The new poll suggests Obama is consolidating his support across demographic groups. He now leads McCain in every age group, even among voters 65 and older, who choose him over McCain 48 percent to 42 percent. He leads handily among men, 52 percent to 42 percent, and among women, 54 percent to 39 percent. He now leads McCain by 46 percent to 44 percent among working class whites, a dramatic reversal from April, when McCain led him in that group 53 percent to 35 percent.

Still, McCain's attempt to raise anxiety about Obama's economic policies—with his relentless focus on Joe the Plumber and his suggestion that an Obama presidency could usher in an era of socialism—seems to have had some effect with working-class voters. In the poll, 39 percent of working-class and poor whites said they would list as a major concern the fear that Obama's tax plans could hurt small business. The McCain attacks seem to have had a larger impact with middle class and high-income voters, 48 percent of whom deem Obama's tax policies a major concern.

But in general, the poll suggests the McCain campaign has failed to negatively define Obama in the way that it might have wished. A large majority of voters in the survey, 62 percent, now say they have a favorable view of Obama, versus 32 percent who have an unfavorable view. That's actually a small improvement, within the margin of error, for Obama over two weeks ago, when his favorable/unfavorable ratio was 60/36. By contrast, 50 percent of voters now say they have a favorable view of McCain, while 44 percent say they have an unfavorable view--a result that is basically unchanged from two weeks ago, when 51 percent had a favorable view of the Republican candidate and 45 had an unfavorable view. Despite repeated attempts by the McCain campaign to raise fears about the specter of one-party Democratic rule in Washington, only 34 percent of voters say they think Obama is too liberal, while a majority, 56 percent, say they think Obama's views on major issues are "about right."

Sarah Palin continues to be a major drag on the McCain ticket. For the first time since McCain picked Palin as his running mate, more voters, 46 percent, have an unfavorable opinion of the Alaska governor, than have a favorable opinion, 44 percent. Nearly a third of voters, 31 percent, say that McCain's choice of Palin makes them less likely to vote for him, while 19 percent say the Palin pick makes them more likely to choose McCain (49 percent say it makes no difference). Perhaps most concerning for the McCain campaign is that 34 percent of independents say the Palin pick makes them less likely to support McCain, compared to 45 percent of Democrats and 9 percent of Republicans.

The Palin problem seems to stem mostly from a concern among voters that she is not yet ready to serve as president should something happen to McCain. A solid majority of voters, 55 percent, now say they think Palin is not qualified to serve as president, while 40 percent say she is qualified. Nonetheless, her personal connection with the American electorate remains strong; 70 percent of voters find her personally likeable, while only 24 percent do not. Palin's appearance on "Saturday Night Live" last week was much noted: nearly half of voters, 49 percent, say they saw the show or have seen video clips. But it appears to have done the McCain ticket little good: 11 percent think the show helped McCain/Palin, 12 percent think it hurt them, and a vast majority—62 percent—think the comedy-show appearance made no difference.

Still, dissatisfaction with the Bush administration and despondency over the direction the country is headed seems to be the biggest factor driving McCain's poor showing in the poll. Only 23 percent of voters now say they approve of the job that George W. Bush is doing as president, a new low for any president in the NEWSWEEK Poll.