PUSH BACK – There are significant areas in which McCain can push back against Obama. After a five-year decline prompted by the unpopular president and the war in Iraq, there's been a recovery this year in Republican affiliation – possibly the precursor of post-Bush politics. The change is slight but bears watching: On average in ABC/Post polls this year 28 percent of Americans have identified themselves as Republicans, compared with a 24-year low of 25 percent last year. It peaked at 31 percent in 2003.
Also, in head-to-head matchups against Obama, McCain scores very well in experience, knowledge of world affairs and trust to handle terrorism; he's roughly even with Obama on leadership, ethics and trust to handle the war in Iraq, and he's closed the gap on immigration.
As well as immigration, McCain has gained ground on some personal attributes. Compared with early March he's advanced by 10 points in his rating as having higher personal and ethical standards and by 6 points as better understanding "the problems of people like you." He's lost 5, though, as the stronger leader.
Most fundamentally, the country's roughly divided on whether "strength and experience" or "new ideas and a new direction" are more important in the presidential election. Currently "strength and experience" voters favor McCain by 68-27 percent, while those more concerned with "new ideas and a new direction" favor Obama by an even broader margin, 79-18 percent. Just as these choices have driven the Democratic nominating contest, so they likely will in the general election.
METHODOLOGY - This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone May 8-11, 2008, among a random national sample of 1,122 adults, including an oversample of African Americans (weighted to their correct share of the national population), for a total of 206 black respondents. The results from the full survey have a 3-point error margin; among the 620 leaned Democrats it's 4 points. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, PA.