On several personal attributes, meantime, Obama is well in the fore -- a 19-point lead in understanding the economic problems people are having, 55-36 percent; 23 points in having the better personality and temperament for the presidency; and a whopping 28 points, 61-33 percent, in trust to "bring needed change to Washington."
The two are tied, though, on who's the strongest leader and who'd work best with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
And there are the swing voters, groups that -- as noted in last week's ABC News/Washington Post poll -- have been notably changeable as they struggle to decide between two candidates who, for many, are both fundamentally attractive, yet also imperfect.
White women are one of the changeable groups.
Among likely voters they've gone from +7 for Obama before the party conventions to +11 for McCain afterward, then to about an even split last week (+2 Obama) – but back to +11 for McCain in this poll. (Married women, likewise, have been unsettled in their allegiance.)
White Catholics are another key swing group -- they've gone with the winner in each of the last eight presidential elections. Preferences in this group are steady from last week, but essentially evenly divided -- 47-46 percent, McCain-Obama. They had tilted heavily to McCain after his convention.
Mainstream or non-evangelical white Protestants have moved this year as well, from sizable McCain leads to much closer divisions and back. So, as noted, have independents.
All these are groups that are customarily less solidly aligned with one of the main political parties -- unlike, for example, blacks, core Democrats among whom 95 percent favor Obama; or evangelical white Protestants, core Republicans among whom seven in 10 or more have steadily preferred McCain. (McCain has a 13-point lead among whites overall, 55-42 percent -- almost exactly the average for Republican presidential candidates since 1976.)
There's another group in which Obama has room to improve, McCain to encroach -- Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who'd preferred Hillary Clinton for the nomination.
Obama's winning 72 percent of them in this poll, McCain 20 percent -- roughly where it's been since June.
The movability of the swing groups underscores the still-unsettled nature of the race, even with Obama's underlying advantages.
And more movement remains possible: Nineteen percent of likely voters say they haven't made up their minds for sure, plenty enough to determine the eventual outcome -- and a number that's not gone down lately.
METHODOLOGY:This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 27-29, 2008, among a random sample of 1,271 adults, including an oversample of African Americans (weighted to their correct share of the national population), for a total of 165 black respondents. Results among the 1,070 registered voters and 916 likely voters surveyed have a 3-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, PA.