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Thursday, October 23, 2008

This Race Goes to 11 - Powell Helps with Indies

Barack Obama is up 11 points on John McCain among likely voters in the new Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll, 54 to 43 percent. Though little changed from yesterday, Obama's national lead is now his biggest of the campaign in Post-ABC polling.

Former secretary of state Colin Powell's endorsement provides a new boost for Obama, who has made significant progress with voters as a leader in international affairs. But Obama also continues to be lifted by more fundamental advantages, including a 2 to 1 advantage on "helping the middle-class."

First on Powell - Two in 10 independent voters said they are more inclined to vote for Obama because of Powell's backing; 4 percent said they were nudged the other way.

In polling after the Powell nod, Obama trails McCain by 19-points on the question of who would be a better commander in chief. But McCain's advantage as prospective commander in chief is sharply diminished from early September, when he held a whopping 43-point lead on the question coming out of the nominating conventions.

Of course, the intervening period also includes the three presidential debates and other events that have turned what was then a roughly even race into one with Obama clearly ahead. And the Powell endorsement does not carry the weight it would have in the 1990s. In the new poll, 77 percent of voters said it will not sway them this year; in late 1995, 55 percent said it would have had an impact during that campaign.

Nevertheless, among those who said Powell sways them toward Obama, nearly six in 10 said the Democrat would be the better commander in chief, while a similarly large proportion of those unmoved by Powell side with McCain on the question.

On the broader question of who would be better on international affairs, it is close to even, with McCain at 49 percent, Obama at 46 percent. That is only marginally different from a poll a month ago, but significantly worse for McCain than the 14-point advantage he had following the GOP convention.

Elsewhere in the new poll - Obama leads by about 2 to 1 on health care (which nudged into the double-digits on the most important issue question) and on helping the middle class. No headway on either for McCain as he and the GOP have stepped up their criticisms of Obama on this front.

Obama's 17-point advantage on dealing with the economy (which remains the breakaway top issue) ties high for the campaign. He also maintains a lead over McCain on handling taxes, 51 to 43 percent. At eight-points, Obama's edge on this question is identical to the one George W. Bush held over John F. Kerry at this stage four years ago. Eight years ago, Bush was up 13 points on Al Gore in late October.

McCain-Bush - After ticking below 50 for the first time two days ago, the percentage of voters who see McCain as a continuation of Bush is back to 51. Voters again split 51-46 on the question of whether McCain would mainly continue in Bush's direction or chart a new course.

Obama-experience - 56 percent of voters said Obama has the kind of experience it takes to be an effective president, 42 percent said he does not. Those numbers match his best of the campaign, and are a touch better than the split on Bush's experience on the eve of the 2000 election (52 percent said he had enough experience to be a good president, 44 percent said not).

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