Republican John McCain gained ground in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll that found Democrat Barack Obama's highly publicized foreign trip has not broadened confidence in his ability to be commander of the U.S. military.
The poll, taken Friday through Sunday, showed a surge since last month in likely Republican voters and suggested Obama's trip may have helped energize voters who favor McCain.
It also reflected a jump in support for the U.S. troop increase in Iraq and a country evenly divided between withdrawing troops with and without a timetable. McCain pushed for the extra troops, and Obama opposed them. Obama wants a timetable, and McCain doesn't.
Obama was ahead 47%-44% among registered voters, down from a 6-percentage point lead he had last month. McCain led 49%-45% among likely voters, reversing a 5-point Obama lead among that group. In both cases, the margin of error is +/—4 points.
"Registered voters are much more important at the moment," Gallup chief Frank Newport said. He said McCain's lead among likely voters suggests "the possibility's there that Republicans can get energized."
Majorities in the new poll said Obama would do a better job than McCain in dealing with foreign leaders and handling relations with other countries. But 41% said they don't think he can handle the job of commander in chief — about the same as the 40% who said that last month, before Obama's 10-day trip to Europe and the Middle East.
Obama's trip received good reviews from 35% in the poll. About a quarter viewed it negatively, and 38% said they didn't know enough to say.
McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said, "Despite Barack Obama's international stardom, polls show that we're in a dead heat and that hardworking Americans have real concerns with Obama's inexperience and questionable judgment." Obama's campaign declined to comment; the candidate has said he did not expect an uptick from the trip, which included Iraq and Afghanistan.
To determine whether they were likely voters, poll participants were asked how much thought they had given the election, how often they voted in the past and whether they plan to vote this fall. McCain's gains came because there was an even number of likely voters from each party. Last month, the Democrats had an 11-point edge.
Nearly two months after the Democrats' pitched primary battle ended, more Republicans than Democrats say they are "giving quite a lot of thought" to the election. Backlash to Obama's trip, fueled by McCain's criticism, also boosts GOP engagement. Six in 10 Republicans said news media coverage of Obama's trip was "unfairly positive."
Obama led McCain 48%-40% among registered voters in a separate Gallup tracking poll over the same three days. Newport said differences were inevitable in two polls conducted simultaneously but were within the margin of error.