Barack Obama has seized the reins of economic discontent, vaulting over John McCain's convention gains by persuading voters he both better understands their economic troubles and can better address them.
Concerns about the economy have spiked since the global financial crisis roiled the stock market and sparked a proposed government bailout.
Fifty-three percent of registered voters in this new ABC News/Washington Post poll call the economy the single most important issue in the election, up 12 points in two weeks to an extraordinary level of agreement.
The public is cool to the bailout itself, underscoring economic uncertainty.
Eight in 10 are worried about the economy's future, half of them very worried. Personal concern runs high as well; six in 10 are worried about their family's finances. And 83 percent say the country's seriously off on the wrong track, back within a point of its record high -- set just this June -- in polls dating to early 1970s.
All these work for Obama.
He's recovered to a 14-point lead over McCain in trust to handle the economy, and leads by 13 points specifically in trust to deal with the meltdown of major financial institutions.
Obama leads by more, 24 points, 57-33 percent, in better understanding the public's economic problems.
Tellingly, after trailing by 17 points, he's pulled even with McCain in trust to handle a major crisis. And Obama holds wide margins in vote preference among likely voters most concerned about the economy.
More economic worry, plus an Obama lead among those who express it, spells a lead for the Democrat: In a head-to-head-match-up he's now supported by 52 percent of likely voters vs. McCain's 43 percent, the first significant advantage for either candidate among likely voters in ABC/Post polls.
Add third-party candidates Ralph Nader and Bob Barr and it's essentially the same, 51-43 percent.
The contest has shifted from a 49-47 percent McCain-Obama race immediately after the Republican convention.
McCain's bounce -- on individual issues and attributes as well as in overall preference -- is gone.
The immediate question for Obama: Whether he can hang on to his newfound gains through the first presidential debate Friday night.
Attention to the contest, meanwhile, is remarkable. Ninety-one percent of registered voters are following it closely, 55 percent "very" closely – both highs in ABC/Post polls dating to the 1988 presidential election.
McCain progressed at his convention in part by encroaching on Obama's mantle of "change," invigorating his base, improving on enthusiasm and gaining ground among white women, a movable group all summer, by selecting Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate. Those have faded.
In June Obama led by 32 points lead in "trust to bring needed change to Washington"; McCain whittled that down to 12 points by Sept. 7. Today it's back to a 25-point Obama advantage, 58-33 percent.
Palin's favorability rating has been trimmed from 58 percent to 52 percent, falling farthest in a key swing voter group, white Catholics; it's also down notably among white college graduates, independents, moderates and white women.