Barack Obama has recaptured the lead — 45 percent to 39 percent — over John McCain in the presidential race, according to a FOX News poll released Wednesday.
As majorities of each party's faithful back their party nominee, the battle stays focused on that most sought-after group of voters: independents.
These voters, evenly divided between the candidates in August, swung to McCain earlier this month, which gave him his first lead over Obama since April. In this latest poll independents give a slight edge to Obama, though many have moved back into the undecided column.
In addition, the poll shows Obama has improved his position on the most important issue to voters this year — the economy. He is seen as the best candidate to handle the nation's economy, and more voters also say he would be better at handling the current financial crisis facing the country.
Opinion Dynamics Corp. conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News from September 22 to September 23. The poll has a 3-point error margin.
McCain held a 3-point advantage earlier this month immediately after the Republican convention (September 8-9). Before that Obama had a 3-point lead going into the Democratic convention (August 19-20). Looking back as far as a year ago, in head-to-head polling neither candidate has had a lead outside the poll's margin of sampling error. Obama's lead today is just at the outside edge of the margin of error.
The new poll finds Obama now has the edge among men (+5 percentage points) — a group that had previously either been evenly divided or slightly in McCain's column. Obama maintains his advantage among women voters (+8), while white women are a bit more likely to support McCain (+2).
Obama Has the Edge on Top Issues
The economy is far and away the most important issue to voters in this election. More than four times as many people say the economy (46 percent) is the top concern as choose the issue — terrorism and national security (10 percent). All other issues receive single digit support.
Obama is trusted more to handle the economy by 10 percentage points, the related issue of taxes by 7 points, and he also leads on handling energy independence by 10 points. His largest advantage — 21 points — is on handling the issue of health care.
By double-digit margins McCain is trusted more to handle the issues of terrorism (+ 12 points) and the Iraq war (+ 8 points).
Nearly twice as many voters think their taxes will go up under a President Obama (15 percent) than a President McCain (8 percent). A 65 percent majority thinks their taxes will go up no matter which candidate takes the White House.
Which candidate do voters trust to keep his word? Some 41 percent think Obama and 38 percent McCain. Another 10 percent say "neither."
By a 5-point margin more voters think the Democratic ticket has "better judgment combined" — a reversal from two weeks ago when the Republican ticket had a 4-point edge.
The Democratic ticket has a 12-point edge when it comes to bringing the "right change to Washington," up from a 7-point lead two weeks ago. The Obama-Biden ticket also has the edge on understanding "the problems you and your family face these days" (+13 points).
The Republican ticket is seen as having "more experience combined" (+ 15 points).
Voters are now almost evenly divided when asked who they would go to for advice if they had to make the "toughest decision of their life" — 40 percent say Obama and 39 percent McCain. Earlier this month McCain had a 16-point advantage on this measure (50 percent to Obama's 34 percent). McCain had a 6-point edge in the August 19-20 poll (43 percent McCain and 37 percent Obama).
Among independents, 34 percent would go to Obama for advice and 31 percent McCain. This too is a change — earlier this month independents broke 22 percent Obama and 52 percent McCain. In August, 26 percent of independents said they would go to Obama for advice and 41 percent said McCain.
With the struggling national economy, the prolonged Iraq war and high disapproval ratings for President Bush, the conventional wisdom has been it is impossible for a Democratic candidate to lose this election. How would voters explain an Obama loss? About one of four voters (26 percent) say if Obama loses they think racism will be to blame. A-57 percent majority thinks it would be for another reason.
Over half of black voters (55 percent) and about one of five white voters (22 percent) think racism across the country would be to blame if Obama is defeated in November.
On a similar question about McCain's age, 17 percent think if he loses it will be mainly because of his age and 68 percent say because of something else. Twenty-five percent of seniors age 65 and over think McCain's age would be to blame if he loses.
Voters More Comfortable with Biden Stepping in as President
More voters would be comfortable with Joe Biden as vice president as would be comfortable with Sarah Palin in that role. Some 40 percent would be "extremely" comfortable or "very" comfortable with Biden as vice president, while 34 percent would be with Palin.
Similarly, when the question asks what if it were necessary for the vice president to step in and serve as president: 44 percent would be "extremely" or "very" comfortable with Biden as president, and 32 percent with Palin.
The big difference comes at the other end of the scale: 38 percent of voters say they would be "not at all" comfortable with Palin stepping in to serve as president — more than twice as many as say the same about Biden (17 percent).
Palin's favorable rating has dropped a bit and now stands at 47 percent, down from 54 percent two weeks ago. Nearly half of voters — 48 percent — have a favorable view of Biden, down from 51 percent (September 8-9).
The presidential candidates say they want to run respectful campaigns focused on the issues — so are they? Almost half of voters (47 percent) think McCain has made unfair attacks against Obama — somewhat higher than the 36 percent who think Obama is hitting below the belt.