In terms of basic approach to governance, registered voters by 47-38 percent see a bigger risk that McCain would put in too few regulations than Obama putting in too many. And 47 percent are concerned McCain would do too much to represent the interests of large business corporations, up 6 points from June.
Just 14 percent, meanwhile, think Obama would do too much to represent the interests of African-Americans. And, in contrast with concerns about McCain's age, 91 percent say they're comfortable with the idea of Obama being the first African-American president.
BUSH AND PARTY ID – Another way to look at the challenge facing McCain is via the shadow of George W. Bush. Fifty-one percent of registered voters think McCain as president would lead the nation in the same direction as the profoundly unpopular Bush – as persistent a problem for McCain as experience has been for Obama.
Among likely voters who approve of Bush, McCain's supported by 91 percent – but there are precious few of them. Those who disapprove of Bush, meanwhile, favor Obama over McCain by a 70-25 percent margin. All else equal, to pull into the barest lead over Obama, McCain needs to boost his share of Bush disapprovers to 38 percent or more.
Other measures of discontent underscore the challenge. Among likely voters who say the country's off on the wrong track, Obama has a 16-point lead; ditto among those who are worried about the economy's direction. And among those who cite the economy as their top voting issue he leads McCain by 61-34 percent.
Long-running dissatisfaction with Bush (he hasn't seen majority approval in 45 months, a record by far), the Iraq war and the economy has prompted a flight from the Republican Party. On average in 2003, for the first time since ABC News started polling in 1981, equal numbers of Americans identified themselves as Democrats and Republicans. That's turned around; on average this year there's been a 10-point advantage in Democratic self-identification.
Specifically among likely voters, this poll finds a 9-point advantage for the Democrats – 39 percent identify themselves as Democrats, 30 percent as Republicans, the rest as independents or something else. If that holds on Election Day it'll be a departure from turnout in presidential elections since 1984, in which Democrats have held at most a 4-point edge. But given the level of current discontent with Bush, and the overall trend in party identification the last five years, it could.
One factor that's tended to help Republicans is the fact that the country is more center-right than center-left ideologically; on average, half again as many voters call themselves conservatives as liberals. But McCain nonetheless places less well than Obama does: Just 39 percent of registered voters call McCain "about right" ideologically, compared with 55 percent for Obama. A key reason is that 47 percent of moderates call McCain too conservative, more than the 29 percent who call Obama too liberal.
GROUPS – A note of caution in this election is the unusual movability in key swing groups – especially, again, independents, white Catholics and married women, all of which at various points have moved markedly in vote preference.