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 poll taken just after the second debate. Currently, Obama enjoys his widest margin yet over McCain among registered voters, at 52% to 38%. When the sample of voters is narrowed to those most likely to vote, Obama leads by 53% to 39%.
Those are dramatically different results from the last time I wrote about Pew, on 10/01, where they had Obama at 49% and McCain at 43% among likely voters. At least according to Pew, Obama now commands a decisive 14% lead among likely voters. What else does Pew find?
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.
In addition, Sarah Palin appears to be a continuing – if not an increasing – drag on the GOP ticket. Currently, 49% of voters express an unfavorable opinion of Palin, while 44% have a favorable view. In mid-September, favorable opinions of Palin outnumbered negative ones by 54% to 32%. Women, especially women under age 50, have become increasingly critical of Palin: 60% now express an unfavorable view of Palin, up from 36% in mid-September. Notably, opinions of Palin have a greater impact on voting intentions than do opinions of Joe Biden, Obama’s running mate.
The more voters see of Obama, the more they like him. The more they see of Palin, the less they like her (women, proving that they are smarter than men, especially can't seem to stand her.) And the longer the campaign goes on, the more questions people have about McCain. For their part, Gallup has Obama up by either 7% or 10% depending on what model for voter turnout they use. I'm not calling anything not even this close to the election day, but Obama would have to suffer an unprecedented meltdown to surrender this lead.
UPDATE (Adam): An NBC/WSJ poll confirms these results.
UPDATE II (Adam): The Gallup, Research 2000, and Zogby tracking polls have him up similarly. Here is a good primer.