Oct. 24, 2008— -- Beleaguered by Saksgate as well as broad doubts about her qualifications, Sarah Palin is now rated unfavorably by just more than half of likely voters, capping her dramatic rise in unpopularity as the presidential campaign has progressed.
Other measures continue to help the Democrats as well: As the economic crisis has deepened, Barack Obama has maintained his lead in trust to handle the economy, now 17 points, as well as an 18-point advantage in better understanding voters' problems.
And strong enthusiasm among his supporters is at a new high: 70 percent, nearly double John McCain's, and well above that of any of the presidential candidates in 2000 or 2004.
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Likely voters overall divide by 53-44 percent, Obama-McCain respectively, in this latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll.
Obama holds a seven-point edge among independents and very large leads among black and Hispanic voters counter his 8-point deficit among whites -- itself just below the average for a Democratic presidential candidate in exit polls since 1976.
Fifty-one percent of likely voters continue to call the economy the single top issue in their vote, vastly No. 1, and those voters favor Obama by 62-35 percent.
It makes the difference: Those who pick all other issues combined favor McCain, 54-43 percent.
Among whites who cite the economy as their top issue, moreover, it's a slight 51-45 percent edge for Obama versus McCain. Among whites who're more concerned with all other issues combined, by contrast, McCain leads by a wide 60-37 percent.
Gov. Palin's been dogged by difficulties, including the Oct. 10 finding that she abused her power as governor in seeking the dismissal of an Alaska state trooper and the controversy this week over the Republican National Committee spending $150,000 on clothes for her and her family.
Palin said the wardrobe controversy was fueled by gender bias.
However, her overall favorability rating -- the most basic measure of a public figure's popularity -- has fallen more steeply among women, by 17 points, and among white women, by 21 points, than it has among men, an eight-point drop.
Sarah Palin's Unpopularity Grows in Wake of Controversy
At her peak, after the Republican convention, 59 percent of likely voters held an overall favorable opinion of Palin.
Now that's down to 46 percent, while 51 percent see her unfavorably. Majority disfavor is danger for any public figure; so is its intensity -- and an unusually large 40 percent have a "strongly" unfavorable opinion of Palin.
Men now divide about evenly on Palin, 51-46 percent favorable-unfavorable, down from 59-24 percent Sept. 7. Women, though, have gone from 58-33 percent then to 41-56 percent now, currently viewing her unfavorably by a 15-point margin.
Another group in which Palin's rating has fallen especially steeply is among mainline or nonevangelical white Protestants -- a 24-point drop, from 70 percent favorable in early September to 46 percent today.
This is the same usually pro-Republican group that has moved toward Obama, now supporting him by a 10-point margin, enough to counteract his shortfall among usually swing-voting white Catholics.
Palin's also lost ground on her main stake, the common touch -- a 10-point drop in the number who believe she "understands the problems of people like you." (Again, the decline has occurred disproportionately among women.)
And about six in 10 likely voters continue to say she lacks the experience to serve effectively as president. That doesn't help McCain, given the level of concerns about his age.
McCain's own favorability rating is positive (55 percent), albeit behind Obama's 63 percent. (Joe Biden's seen favorably by 59 percent.)
But there's a big intensity gap between the presidential candidates: Just 29 percent of likely voters have a strongly favorable impression of McCain compared with Obama's 47 percent.
This plays out among their own supporters: Among those who back Obama for president, 83 percent view him "very" favorably. McCain's "very favorable" rating among his own supporters is 60 percent -- 23 points lower.
A similar dynamic is reflected in their enthusiasm scores.
As noted, among Obama's supporters, 70 percent are "very" enthusiastic about his campaign; that compares to just 39 percent of McCain's supporters.
In the last two elections, high-level enthusiasm for President Bush peaked at 55 percent in 2004 and at 44 percent in 2000; for John Kerry in 2004 at 46 percent; and for Al Gore in 2000 at 41 percent. Obama's blows by them all.
Obama Maintains Ground Game Edge Over McCain
Then there's the ground game.
Three in 10 likely voters say they've been contacted personally by Obama's campaign, rising to four in 10 in the battleground states -- in both cases an advantage for Obama over McCain.
Nationally, 29 percent report being contacted by phone, in person or via e-mail or text message on behalf of the Obama campaign versus 21 percent who report a contact from the McCain camp.
In the 16 battleground states, 38 percent report an Obama contact versus 27 percent from the McCain campaign. And in the eight tossups states it's 42 versus 29 percent.
Obama's efforts also seem either better targeted or more effective.
He holds a wide 75-23 percent lead in vote choice among likely voters who've been contacted by his campaign; among those he's not contacted, by contrast, it's a 50-44 percent McCain-Obama race.
McCain's efforts do not show this differentiation.
He trails by 10 points, 52-42 percent, among people he's contacted, and by about the same, 55-42 percent, among those he has not.
In another indication of targeting, Obama has an especially sharp advantage among likely voters under age 40: in this group, 30 percent report an Obama contact, while just 11 percent have heard from McCain. And 44 percent of Democrats report an Obama contact verus 25 percent of Republicans who've been contacted by McCain.
METHODOLOGY: Interviews for this ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll were conducted by telephone Oct. 20-23, 2008, among a random national sample of 1,321 likely voters, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a 2.5-point error margin for the full sample. Results on questions 24 through 26 were conducted Oct. 22-23 among 661 likely voters; those results have a 4-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.