John McCain's taken the better boost from the presidential nominating conventions, eroding Barack Obama's advantage on change, improving on enthusiasm, moving away from George W. Bush -- and advancing among white women with help from his surprise vice presidential pick.
Some of McCain's biggest gains in this ABC News/Washington Post poll are among white women, a group to which "hockey mom" Sarah Palin has notable appeal: Sixty-seven percent view her favorably and 58 percent say her selection makes them more confident in McCain's decision-making. Among those with children, Palin does better yet. And enthusiasm for McCain among his female supporters has soared.
White women have moved from 50-42 percent in Obama's favor before the conventions to 53-41 percent for McCain now, a 20-point shift in the margin that's one of the single biggest post-convention changes in voter preferences. The other, also to McCain's advantage, is in the battleground Midwest, where he's moved from a 19-point deficit to a 7-point edge.
Obama, for his part, shows little or no progress on his chief challenges -- the question of his experience, the definition of the change he'd bring about and his efforts to entice former Hillary Clinton supporters aboard. Obama continues to lead McCain by a wide margin in enthusiasm, but his advantage on some key issues has softened.
Notably, far more people see Obama than McCain as in tune with the economic problems Americans are experiencing -- but in trust to handle the economy the gap between the two has narrowed to a slim 5-point Obama advantage. That speaks to McCain's advantage on experience, expressed, for example, in his 17-point margin in trust to handle a crisis.
The race overall enters its post-Labor Day leg as a close one, with two popular presidential candidates dividing the electorate. Registered voters split 47-46 percent between Obama and McCain; that's tightened from an 8-point Obama lead in July to its closest since February, before either candidate secured his party's nomination.
Among people most likely to vote the race has been close consistently; today it's 49 percent for McCain, 47 percent for Obama, a scant 4-point gain in McCain's support from its pre-convention level. McCain held a numerical edge, 48-47 percent, once before, in June. Given polling tolerances all these are the equivalent of a dead heat.
There's plenty of attention to the race -- 89 percent of registered voters say they're following the contest closely, up 10 points from July -- but the candidates' room to move is shrinking.
Eighteen percent of likely voters are "movable," meaning they haven't made up their minds for sure; that's slimmed from 26 percent before the convention. These voters -- mainly independents and moderates, less engaged politically -- are those the campaigns are competing to corral.
Both candidates, notably, continue to command generally positive images. Fifty-nine percent of registered voters see McCain favorably and 58 percent say the same of Obama (steady for McCain, a 4-point slip for Obama). Palin's also seen favorably by 58 percent, a slight improvement from last week; Joe Biden, by 51 percent.
Most striking is McCain's progress, immediately after the GOP convention, in underlying assessments of his candidacy.