A week from Election Day, John McCain has consolidated in his base but slipped in the center, while Barack Obama is holding the line on taxes while advancing among middle class voters -- and just a little weariness is slipping into assessments of the candidates.
McCain's had some gains in his pushback on economy and trust to handle a crisis.
But he shows no progress on a third line of attack, taxes, and he's losing usually swing-voting independents by an 11-point margin and middle-income likely voters by 12 points.
For the first time since late September McCain has cracked Obama's double-digit margin in trust to handle the economy, now a 9-point Obama lead in this ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll, down from 18 points last week.
And McCain's pulled about even in trust to handle an unexpected crisis, after trailing Obama by 9 points on this attribute Oct. 11. But it's still far from McCain's best on crisis management, a 17-point lead Sept. 7.
McCain, meanwhile, shows no progress on taxes, despite a steady push; Obama retains a 10-point lead in trust to handle them, including an improved 17-point margin in the much sought-after middle class. This traditionally is a Republican issue; the last Democrat to lead on taxes going into Election Day was Bill Clinton in 1992.
Head-to-head in vote preference it remains a 52-45 percent Obama-McCain contest among likely voters in this ABC/Post poll.
McCain's at or near his best support to date among conservatives and evangelical white Protestants, core Republican groups. But the 52-41 percent division among independents is Obama's best since Sept. 22, and his lead among middle-class voters is his best to date.
Enthusiasm Lags as Campaign Heads Toward Finish
Enthusiasm for both candidates has flagged a bit.
Last week a high of 71 percent of Obama's supporters were "very enthusiastic" about his campaign; it's 65 percent now. And high-level enthusiasm among McCain's supporters has slipped about as much, from a high of 40 percent last week to 35 percent now.
Even with the edge off, Obama's enthusiasm continues to far outstrip McCain's. Obama's enthusiasm moreover, is higher -- and McCain's lower -- than in the 2004 presidential election.
Notably, among McCain's core groups, just 39 percent of evangelical white Protestants, 38 percent of conservatives and 36 percent of all Republicans who support him are very enthusiastic about it.
By contrast, among Democrats who support Obama 72 percent are very enthusiastic; liberals 71 percent; and blacks, 86 percent.
In the center, moreover, among independents who favor McCain, 33 percent do so very enthusiastically; among independents who support Obama, it's 52 percent.
Economy Still Top Issue as Presidential Campaign Nears Election Day
On issues, the economy still dominates.
An overwhelming 54 percent call it the single most important issue in their vote, inching to a new high in ABC/Post tracking since Oct. 19.
Obama leads McCain among economy voters by 58-39 percent, a big lead albeit Obama's smallest margin in this group in the past month.
Separately, consumer confidence, as measured in the ongoing ABC News Consumer Comfort Index, is 2 points from its record low in 22 years of weekly polling -- precisely where it was immediately preceding the economy-driven 1992 election.
The single biggest change in trust to handle the economy, as noted in yesterday's tracking report, is among movable voters, the 11 percent who haven't definitely made up their minds -- from a 29-point advantage on the economy for Obama last week to a 7-point McCain edge this week.
Nonetheless movables split, 37-34 percent McCain-Obama, with the rest undecided.
Changes in trust on the economy also have occurred disproportionately in some of McCain's core support groups, reflecting a return to the fold.
Last week conservatives preferred McCain on the economy by a 40-point margin; now it's 61 points; evangelical white Protestants preferred him on the economy by 46 points, compared with 65 points now.
On trust to handle a crisis, the sharpest changes since the Republican convention -- toward McCain, then away, then back -- have been among women, especially white women and married women, two potential swing voter groups.
In vote preference, McCain's inched above 50 percent among suburban likely voters, but slipped to a dead heat in rural areas -- while still losing urbanites to Obama by nearly 2-1.
McCain leads by 8 points among whites, a bit below the average 13-point advantage for Republican presidential candidates in exit polls since 1976.
Obama makes it up among nonwhites, including more than 90 percent support from blacks and 68 percent among Hispanics.
Young Voters Propel Obama; Early Voters Out in Numbers
Obama's overall lead continues to rely on his support among young voters -- a nearly 2-1 advantage over McCain, 63-33 percent, among those under 30.
Sliced more finely, that peaks at 70-28 percent among 18-to 24-year-olds, and 60-37 percent among 25-to 29-year-olds.
Turnout among young voters always carries some uncertainty; in this poll they account for 16 percent of likely voters, about the same as their share of the electorate in 2004.
As reported separately (and updated here with Monday night interviews), for one in 10 likely voters 2008 is a done deal: Ten percent report that they've already voted.
Assuming turnout between 130 and 140 million voters, that matches closely with tallies indicating that 12.6 million votes already have been cast early or by absentee ballot
Updating with Monday night interviews, early voters favor Obama over McCain, by 60-40 percent. Early voting to date peaks among senior citizens -- 18 percent say they've voted -- and Westerners, 16 percent.
Many more are coming: All told 35 percent of likely voters now say they plan to vote early or absentee in the week ahead, soaring to 57 percent in the West and 42 percent in the South.
That slips to 25 percent in the Midwest, and in the Northeast, just 8 percent.
METHODOLOGY: Interviews for this ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll were conducted by telephone Oct. 24-27, 2008, among a random national sample of 1,301 likely voters, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a 2.5-point error margin for the full sample. Questions 6b and 6c were asked Oct. 26-27 among 654 likely voters; that result has a 4-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, PA.