McCain Tops Obama in Commander-in-Chief Test; Stays Competitive on Iraq

Poll: 72 percent of Americans say McCain would be good commander-in-chief.

ByABC News
July 14, 2008, 12:58 PM

July 14, 2008— -- Americans divide evenly between Barack Obama and John McCain's approaches to the war in Iraq, and rate McCain much more highly on his abilities as commander-in-chief key reasons the unpopular war isn't working more to Obama's advantage.

Despite broad, longstanding dissatisfaction with the war, just 50 percent of Americans prefer Obama's plan to withdraw most U.S. forces within 16 months of taking office. Essentially as many, 49 percent, side with McCain's position setting no timetable and letting events dictate when troops are withdrawn.

That division is reflected in another result: While Obama's steadily led on most domestic issues, he and McCain run about evenly in trust to handle Iraq, 45-47 percent in this new ABC News/Washington Post poll.

The war's been a top campaign issue, second only to the economy in public concern; Obama speaks on it Tuesday, after writing an op-ed on the subject in Monday's New York Times.

This poll also finds substantial concern on the troubled conflict in Afghanistan: Fifty-one percent of Americans now say the U.S. campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda there has been unsuccessful, double what it was in the heady days of 2002.

McCain's competitiveness on Iraq runs counter to broader views on the war, which more closely align with Obama's.

McCain supports the war and calls it essential in the U.S. campaign against terrorism; Obama differs. Among all Americans, 63 percent say the war was not worth fighting, steady the last year and a half. And six in 10 reject the idea that winning in Iraq is necessary for success against terrorism more broadly.

One reason McCain can push back on Iraq is his advantage as commander-in-chief a striking one, albeit perhaps not surprising given his military background. Seventy-two percent of Americans even most Democrats say he'd be a good commander-in-chief of the military.

By contrast, fewer than half, 48 percent, say Obama would be a good commander-in-chief, a significant weakness on this measure. (McCain's rating is much improved from his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, when 56 percent said he'd be a good commander-in-chief no more than said so, at the time, about George W. Bush.)