Obama Leads McCain by Eight But Doubts Loom, Raising Stakes

Holes in Barack Obama's foreign affairs resume are spurring doubt about his readiness for a crisis -- raising the stakes on his upcoming trip overseas and posing potential opportunity for his otherwise weaker Republican opponent, John McCain.

Obama continues to hold most of the advantages in the presidential race, in enthusiasm, levels of partisanship, personal qualities and trust on top domestic issues, notably No. 1, the economy; and he's improved in the past month among swing voter groups.

But Obama's experience gap vs. McCain shows up especially in global politics.

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Americans by a wide margin, 63-26 percent, pick McCain as more knowledgeable on world affairs, rate him much more highly in terms of readiness for the world stage and military leadership alike, and put him ahead of Obama by 50-41 percent in trust to handle "an unexpected major crisis."

Obama remains strong on the home front. He leads McCain by 19 points in trust to handle the economy, 14 points on the deficit and 10 points on immigration, the latter a turnaround from a McCain lead in the spring.

By contrast, the two run about evenly in trust to deal with international affairs overall, as well as Iraq, Iran and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. And McCain has a scant 6-point edge in trust to handle terrorism, though Obama's moved up on this measure since spring.

Obama scores on one international issue: Americans by 2-1 think he's better able to restore America's image abroad, overwhelmingly seen as having been damaged by George W. Bush. And McCain's competitiveness on foreign affairs is weakened by its relatively low importance overall: Just 28 percent call it "extremely important" in their vote, compared with 50 percent who say that about the economy. Iraq and terrorism, however, rate higher, at 42 and 37 percent "extremely important," respectively.

Edge and Risks to Obama

There are other dynamics well worth watching. Some pose risks for Obama: With the closely fought primaries over, attention to the race has subsided; now as last month, no more Americans are following the election closely than were at this point in 2004 (it's still a lot, 73 percent, but down from 84 percent in the spring).

Intention to vote also has declined, especially among young adults -- Obama's best age group -- as well as among Democrats overall and former Hillary Clinton supporters in particular.

In March, 66 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they'd "definitely vote" in November; now it's 46 percent. (Turnout among young voters is not reliable.) Certain resolve to vote has gone from 82 percent to 66 percent among Democrats and from 77 percent to 58 percent among former Clinton supporters. And a third of onetime Clinton backers still shy from Obama, saying they'd vote for McCain or not at all.

There's another ding on Obama: Change has been his theme, and he leads mightily among voters looking mainly for "a new direction and new ideas" -- but at the same time voters only divide evenly, 47-48 percent, on whether Obama's done enough to explain what "change" means. Among older Americans, who are more skeptical of change as a theme, 56 percent say he hasn't explained it well enough.

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PHOTO: Jodie Foster and Alexandra Hedison attend the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Inaugural Gala presented by Salvatore Ferragamo at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Oct. 17, 2013, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Stefanie Keenan/Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts/Getty Images for Wallis Annenber