High hopes and big doubts face Barack Obama and John McCain alike as they head into their critical convention weeks, with most voters favorably inclined toward both candidates -- but with many also expressing serious reservations about them.
Nearly half of registered voters, 47 percent, continue to think Obama lacks the experience it takes to serve effectively as president, a lot to lose on this basic qualification. McCain leads him by 2-1 margins as more knowledgeable on world affairs and as better-suited to be commander in chief, and has moved ahead in trust to handle international relations.
And Obama has not improved his standing among former Hillary Clinton supporters; while 70 percent of them are for him in this ABC News/Washington Post poll, that leaves three in 10 either undecided or for McCain. That's surely a group Obama will seek to win over in Denver this week.
McCain faces his own challenges: Fifty-seven percent think he would lead in the same direction as the heavily unpopular George W. Bush. Forty-five percent are uncomfortable with a president of McCain's age. (He turns 72 on Friday.) He's seen by a wide margin as the less optimistic of the two, and as running a more negative campaign.
Yet the candidates have strong suits as well as weaker ones, and notably, about six in 10 registered voters have favorable views of both of them: Sixty-two percent favorable for Obama, 59 percent for McCain. That's the most basic measure of a public figure's popularity, and it suggests that each still has a clear opportunity to make his case.
As in past elections, vice presidential choice is one factor that seems unlikely to have much effect. Thirteen percent in this poll, conducted Tuesday through Friday, said they would be more apt to support Obama if he picked Joe Biden, as announced Saturday; but about as many, 10 percent, said it would make them less likely to support Obama -- and 75 percent said it would not make a difference. Vice presidential choices have not had a significant, consistent effect on presidential preference in past years.
Little has changed in basic standings from last month's ABC/Post poll, with single digits dividing the two: Obama is now favored by 49 percent of registered voters to McCain's 43 percent, and among likely voters it's a similar 49-45 percent contest.
Obama has ranged from +1 to +5 among registered voters in 10 other national polls completed last week. This survey has anywhere from 3 to 11 points fewer "undecided" voters than those; this can simply reflect polling technique. At the same time, plenty of registered voters -- 27 percent -- remain movable, meaning they are either undecided or say they might change their minds. Movables currently divide evenly, 37-36 percent, between Obama and McCain. They are a prime target for both campaigns.
Obama continues to hold the edge in enthusiasm: Fifty-two percent of his supporters are "very enthusiastic" about his candidacy, vs. 28 percent of McCain's supporters for their candidate. Similarly, among all registered voters, Obama is seen "strongly" favorably by 37 percent, 12 points better than McCain.
Obama's favorable ratings are better than either John Kerry's (56 percent) or Al Gore's (52 percent, in Gallup polls) before their conventions in 2004 and 2000, respectively, or Bush's 54 percent in 2004. Bush had a 64 percent favorable rating, much like Obama's today, in 2000.