Less than two weeks before Election Day, Barack Obama leads John McCain 49 percent to 40 percent among likely voters, according to a FOX News poll released Wednesday.
Obama's advantage comes mainly from independents, and from the fact that more voters identify themselves as Democrats these days and almost all of them back their party's nominee.
Eighty-eight percent of Democrats support Obama, and 83 percent of Republicans back McCain. Independents break 44 percent to 35 percent in Obama's favor.
In addition to independents, white Catholics are another important swing voting group and they support Obama 50 percent to 39 percent. White Catholics have voted for the winner in each of the last four presidential elections.
New voters — people who have registered to vote in the last two years — back Obama by 51 percent to 40 percent.
A FOX News poll published Oct. 10 among registered voters found Obama leading McCain by seven points, 46 percent to 39 percent.
Obama is seen as the candidate who will bring the right kind of change to Washington, and more voters trust him to handle the major economic problems facing the country right now. By a double-digit margin voters think Obama 's tax plan would do more to improve their family's financial situation.
Turning to McCain's strengths, slightly more voters think the United States will be safer if he is president, and he is seen as the candidate more likely to reach across the aisle and work with the other party.
McCain's clearest advantage is on experience: A large 80 percent majority says McCain has the right experience to be president. Some 52 percent say Obama has the right experience and 45 percent disagree.
In a question aimed at a gut level assessment of the character and judgment of each candidate, voters split when asked who they would go to for advice if they had to make the toughest decision of their life: Obama 45 percent and McCain 41 percent.
Similarly, the results are divided — Obama 47 percent and McCain 43 percent — on the question of "which candidate do you trust more?"
On both of these measures, independent voters are almost evenly split between the two candidates — they give a two-point edge to Obama on the toughest decision measure and a one-point edge to McCain on trust.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Obama on Sunday. Overall, 35 percent say Powell's endorsement makes them more likely to vote for Obama, 25 percent less likely and 37 percent no difference.
Among the highly sought-after group of independent voters the results are essentially the same, as 32 percent say the endorsement makes them more likely to vote for Obama, 22 percent less likely and 43 percent no difference.
Did Powell, a Republican, sway Republican voters with his endorsement? Fifteen percent say it makes them more likely to vote for Obama, 44 percent less likely and 40 percent no difference.
Opinion Dynamics Corp. conducted the national telephone poll of 900 likely voters for FOX News from October 20 to October 21. The poll has a 3-point error margin. "Likely voters" are registered voters who are considered more likely to vote in the November presidential election.
Among voters who say the economy is "extremely important" to their vote for president — Obama has a 56 percent to 34 percent advantage, and by a 64 percent to 25 percent who say the same of health care.
McCain has a 47 percent - 41 percent edge among people who say terrorism is extremely important. Those saying appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court are extremely important in their decision back McCain 47 percent and Obama 45 percent.
Should Government Use Taxes to "Spread the Wealth"?
In a conversation with "Joe the plumber" about his tax plan, Obama said "when you spread the wealth around it's good for everybody." Americans are evenly divided on the idea: 45 percent think it is a good idea and 46 percent a bad idea to use some of the money government collects in taxes to "spread the wealth" to others who are less well off.
Most Democrats think spreading the wealth is a good idea (66 percent) and most Republicans think it is a bad idea (72 percent). Independents split 47 percent good idea and 41 percent bad.
Voters are much more decisive on freezing government spending to get the federal budget under control: 63 percent think that is a good idea and 29 percent a bad idea. McCain has said he will "freeze government spending on all but the most important programs," such as defense, veterans care and Social Security.
Three times as many voters think "cutting taxes" (60 percent) is more likely to stimulate the economy and get the country out of recession than think "increasing government spending on programs" will help the economy recover (20 percent).
Just over half of Americans expect the recession to be either mild (11 percent) or moderate (41 percent), while about one third (35 percent) think it will be a severe recession. Fewer than 1 in 10 voters think there will be an economic depression (9 percent).