Growing Doubts About McCain's Judgment, Age and Campaign Conduct

Oct 21, 2008

Barack Obama’s lead over John McCain has steadily increased since mid-September, when the race was essentially even. Shortly after the first presidential debate on Sept. 26, Obama moved to a 49% to 42% lead; that margin inched up to 50% to 40% in a Pew Research Center poll taken just after the second debate. Currently, Obama enjoys his widest margin yet over McCain among registered voters, at 52% to 38%, according to the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. When the sample of voters is narrowed to those most likely to vote, Obama leads by 53% to 39%.

Obama’s strong showing in the current poll reflects greater confidence in the Democratic candidate personally. More voters see him as “well-qualified” and “down-to-earth” than did so a month ago. Obama also is inspiring more confidence on several key issues, including Iraq and terrorism, than he did before the debates. Most important, Obama now leads McCain as the candidate best able to improve economic conditions by a wider margin (53% to 32%).

Obama’s gains notwithstanding, a widespread loss of confidence in McCain appears to be the most significant factor in the race at this point. Many more voters express doubts about McCain’s judgment than about Obama’s: 41% see McCain as “having poor judgment,” while just 29% say that this trait describes Obama. Fewer voters also view McCain as inspiring than did so in mid-September (37% now, 43% then). By contrast, 71% of voters continue to think of Obama as inspiring.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Oct. 16-19 among 2,599 registered voters interviewed on landline phones and cell phones, finds that McCain’s age also has become more of an issue for voters. Roughly a third (34%) now says that McCain is too old to be president; in the Sept. 9-14 survey, just 23% said this. At this stage in the 1996 campaign, about as many voters (32%) said Republican candidate Bob Dole was too old to be president.

Read the full report Growing Doubts About McCain's Judgment, Age and Campaign Conduct on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press Web site.

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