Oct. 22, 2008 -- Barack Obama has shored up his experience rating to the point where it now surpasses George W. Bush's in 2000 and matches Bill Clinton's in 1992, addressing what has been Obama's greatest vulnerability in the presidential election.
Obama, perhaps with help from his endorsement by Gen. Colin Powell, also appears to have stemmed some underlying advances by John McCain after their final debate last week.
In the battle of who'd best help the middle class Obama holds a 2-1 lead. And he's moved closer to McCain on who'd be the better commander-in-chief, cutting a 43-point McCain lead to 19 points.
Fifty-six percent of likely voters now say Obama has the experience it takes to serve effectively as president, up from 48 percent after the Republican convention.
That's now better than George W. Bush's rating just in advance of the 2000 election, when 52 percent said he was experienced enough. Obama's advance on experience resembles Bill Clinton's 16 years ago, from 49 percent in June 1992 to 57 percent that October.
Obama's running evenly with McCain in trust to handle international affairs (as he has before), as well as by 2-1 in trust to deal with another key issue, health care. And likely voters by 19 percent to 4 percent say the Powell endorsement makes them more likely rather than less likely to vote for Obama, a 15-point net positive.
All told Obama leads McCain by 54-43 percent among likely voters in this latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll. Obama now has 50 percent support among men -- a first for likely voters in ABC/Post polling -- and an 8-point advantage among swing-voting independents.
A separate ABC News polling analysis Wednesday morning noted that Obama has an 11-point lead in the 16 states designated by the ABC News Political Unit as battleground states this year, and a 7-point advantage in the eight rated as toss-ups (Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia).
Further, in 30 "red" states George W. Bush won by a 14-point margin overall in 2004, Obama and McCain are now even, 49-49 percent. And in the 2004 "blue" states, which John Kerry won by 9 points, Obama's now ahead by 18. (Tracking poll data exclude Alaska and Hawaii.)
Barack Obama Improves on Experience Gap
Obama's improvement on experience is telling.
It's biggest -- a 20-point increase since early September -- among so-called mainline or non-evangelical white Protestants, a typically more Republican group that's moved in Obama's direction.
On Sept. 7 just 37 percent in this group called Obama qualified; now it's 57 percent. And head-to-head Obama now leads McCain among non-evangelical white Protestants, 53-45 percent -- compensating for Obama's shortfall among white Catholics, a more usual swing voter group (now dividing 53-44 percent in McCain's favor). In 2004, mainline white Protestants voted by 55-44 percent for Bush over Kerry.
Among other groups, the view that Obama has sufficient experience to serve effectively as president is up by 13 points among seniors, to 51 percent; up 13 points in the Midwest, to 58 percent; up 11 points among men, to 55 percent; up 11 points among independents, to 54 percent; and up 12 points among white Catholics, albeit just to 48 percent.
Similarly, Obama's advanced by 18 points among men in the sense that he'd be a better commander-in-chief – from 18 percent after the GOP convention to 36 percent now. That's still far behind McCain, albeit less so.
Powell Effect Boosts Obama
The results indicate some positive impact of Obama's endorsement by Powell, Bush's first-term secretary of state.
As noted, 19 percent of likely voters say it makes them more apt to support Obama, 4 percent less so. Those most apt to respond favorably were largely with Obama already: African-Americans, Democrats and first-time voters.
However, it's a 16-point net positive among independents, those sought after center-spectrum voters.
Moreover, among people who say the endorsement makes them more apt to support Obama, a majority prefers him over McCain as commander-in-chief. Most of this very likely reflects their predispositions, but Powell can't have hurt.
More subtly, the Powell endorsement might have taken some of the wind out of underlying advances for McCain noted in Monday's tracking analysis. He'd improved on economic empathy, for example.
But in this poll, on who's better trusted to help the middle class -- the Joe-the-Plumber debate -- Obama leads by 62-31 percent. And Obama's maintained his smaller advantage in trust to handle taxes, now 8 points.
Men Favor McCain, Women Favor Obama in Latest Poll
Men divide by 50-46 percent, Obama-McCain -- as noted, his best to date among men. Women favor Obama by a broader 57-41 percent.
Obama trails McCain by 7 points among whites, less than the 13-point average for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976.
Obama and McCain are even among white women; the eight-election average is +8 Republican.
And while Obama trails by 13 points among white men, that average is 20 points -- including a 25-point deficit for Kerry in 2004 and 24 points for Al Gore in 2000.
Meanwhile, among Hispanics, Obama has a better than 3-1 advantage. And among blacks his support has hit a new high in ABC News/Washington Post polls: Ninety-nine percent.
METHODOLOGY:Interviews for this ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll were conducted by telephone Oct. 18-21, 2008, among a random national sample of 1,330 likely voters, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a 2.5-point error margin for the full sample. Results on questions 6d-f, 7j and 19 were conducted Oct. 20-21 among 660 likely voters; those results have a 4-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, PA.