A tornado of economic discontent is buffeting the nation, sending satisfaction with the country's direction to a 35-year low, George W. Bush's approval rating below Richard Nixon's worst – and Barack Obama, boosted by economic empathy, to his best-yet advantage in the presidential race.
Given the global economic crisis, a record 90 percent of registered voters say the country is seriously off on the wrong track, the most since this question first was asked in 1973. At 23 percent, Bush's job approval rating has fallen below Nixon's lowest; it's a point away from the lowest in 70 years of polling, set by Harry Truman in early 1952. Bush's disapproval, meanwhile, is at an all-time record – 73 percent.
Powered chiefly by the public's economic concerns, Obama leads John McCain by 10 points among likely voters, 53-43 percent, in this ABC News/Washington Post poll. Though every race is different, no presidential candidate has come back from an October deficit this large in pre-election polls dating to 1936.
Still, Obama's lead depends upon a shift in basic partisanship that will need to stand the test of turnout come Nov. 4. And while movable voters – those who haven't definitely made up their minds – have inched down to 13 percent, that's still more than enough to change the shape of the race.
Given the critical elements at play, attention to the contest is extraordinary. Ninety-two percent of registered voters are following the election closely, 59 percent "very" closely – both mid-October records in ABC and ABC/Post pre-election polls back to 1988.
WOE – Economic concerns are paramount. Nearly nine in 10 registered voters are worried about the economy's direction; nearly seven in 10 are worried about their own family finances. Fifty-five percent call the economy the single most important issue in their vote, with all other mentions in the single digits.
Reflecting these economic worries, just 44 percent of Americans are confident they'll have enough money to carry them through retirement, down sharply from a high of 69 percent three years ago. At the same time, the public's economic concerns are long-running – consumer confidence hit a 22-year-low back in May – and not directly related to the stock market crash. As in the past, people are keeping the market in perspective; just 16 percent say it's hurt them "a great deal." (See separate analysis.)
As first evident in an ABC/Post poll three weeks ago, Obama holds the reins on economic woe. Registered voters trust him over McCain to handle the economy by 53-37 percent. Obama holds his largest lead yet, a remarkable 30-point margin, in better understanding the economic problems Americans are having, 58-28 percent. He leads McCain by about as much, 59-31 percent, in trust to help the middle class, and by 11 points on taxes, two prime points of contention in the last presidential debate.
WIND – The economy is not the only wind at Obama's back. McCain's receiving blowback for what's perceived as negative campaigning; registered voters by 59-35 percent say he's been mainly attacking Obama rather than addressing the issues. Obama, by contrast, is seen by an even wider margin as issue-focused. (See separate analysis.)