With the first presidential debate completed and both candidates grappling with the turmoil on Wall Street in Washington, Senator Barack Obama is showing signs of gaining significant support among voters with less than five weeks left until Election Day, while Senator John McCain’s image has been damaged by his response to the economic meltdown.
A CBS News Poll released Wednesday that Mr. Obama’s favorability rating, at 48 percent, is the highest it has ever been in polls conducted by CBS and The New York Times. At the same time, the number of voters who hold an unfavorable view of Mr. McCain — 42 percent — is as high as it has been since the CBS News and The Times began asking the question about Mr. McCain in 1999, the first time he ran for president.
The CBS News poll showed that Mr. Obama has a 9 percentage-point lead over Mr. McCain – 49 percent to 40 percent. It marks the first time that Mr. Obama has held a statistically significant lead over Mr. McCain this year in polls conducted by CBS or joint polls by CBS and The New York Times. And several polls taken in battleground states released by other organizations on Tuesday suggested that Mr. Obama was building leads in states including Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The CBS News poll found that President Bush has tied the presidential record for a low approval rating – 22 percent, matching Harry Truman’s Gallup approval rating in 1952, when the country was mired in the Korean war and struggling with a stagnant economy. That finding put a new premium on Mr. McCain’s effort to distance himself from Mr. Bush, and suggests that Mr. Bush will continue to be a prominent figure in the Obama campaign’s advertisements attacking Mr. McCain.
The contest between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama is far from over. It is being fought against the continued uncertainly over the turmoil on Wall Street and in the bail-out negotiations going on in Washington. There are three potential turning-points ahead – a vice presidential debate Thursday night and two more debates between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama – and this election has regularly been shaken up by outside events that have tested both candidates and altered voters’ views.
Still, the trends signaled by this new wave of polls — coming at what both sides view as a critical moment in the contest — suggest that the contours of this race are taking form, and in way in a way that is not encouraging for Mr. McCain’s prospects.