With the first presidential debate completed and both candidates grappling with the turmoil on Wall Street and in Washington, Senator Barack Obama is showing signs of gaining significant support among voters with less than five weeks left until Election Day, while Senator John McCain’s image has been damaged by his response to the financial crisis
A CBS News poll released Wednesday found that Mr. Obama’s favorability rating, at 48 percent, is the highest it has ever been in polls conducted by CBS and The New York Times. At the same time, the number of voters who hold an unfavorable view of Mr. McCain — 42 percent — is as high as it has been since CBS News and The Times began asking the question about Mr. McCain in 1999, the first time he ran for president.
The CBS News poll showed that Mr. Obama had a nine-percentage-point lead over Mr. McCain — 49 percent to 40 percent. It is the first time Mr. Obama has held a statistically significant lead over Mr. McCain this year in polls conducted by CBS or joint polls by CBS and The Times. And a series of polls taken in highly contested states released by other organizations on Tuesday suggested that Mr. Obama was building leads in states including Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The CBS News poll found that President Bush had tied the presidential record for a low approval rating — 22 percent, matching Harry S. Truman’s Gallup approval rating in 1952, when the country was mired in the Korean War and struggling with a stagnant economy. That finding put a new premium on Mr. McCain’s effort to distance himself from Mr. Bush, and suggests that Mr. Bush will continue to be a prominent figure in the Obama campaign’s advertisements attacking Mr. McCain.
The contest between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama is far from over. It is being fought against the continued uncertainty over the turmoil on Wall Street and in the bailout negotiations in Washington. There are three potential turning points ahead — a vice-presidential debate on Thursday night and two more debates between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama — and this election has regularly been shaken up by outside events that have tested both candidates and altered voters’ views.
Still, the trends signaled by this new wave of polls — coming at what both sides view as a critical moment in the contest — suggest that the contours of this race are taking form, and in a way that is not encouraging for Mr. McCain’s prospects.
The election cycle is entering a time when voters historically begin to make final judgments; this year, in fact, many of them are actually beginning early voting in states. What is more, the poll suggests voters have been guided by how Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama did in their debate last Friday, and also how they have responded to the crisis on Wall Street and the resulting deadlock in Washington about how to respond to it.
In the CBS News poll, 54 percent of respondents said Mr. Obama had a plan for dealing with the economic crisis, compared with 48 percent who said Mr. McCain did. And 47 percent of respondents said they disapproved of the way Mr. McCain was handling the current economic crisis, compared with 33 percent who approved and 20 percent who said they had no opinion. For Mr. Obama, 32 percent of respondents said they disapproved of his response, compared with 43 percent of respondents who approved; the rest had no opinion.
And two-thirds of respondents said the highest-profile action Mr. McCain has made in response to the crisis — announcing that he was suspending his campaign to return to Washington and help negotiators strike a deal — had made no difference in the outcome of the talks.
The CBS News poll suggested one sharp contrast in the view of voters of Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain that might have been fed by the different ways the two men responded to the crisis. Forty-five percent said Mr. McCain acted too quickly when he made a decision, compared with 29 percent who said he did not act quickly enough. For Mr. Obama, 23 percent said he acted too quickly, compared with 41 percent who said he did not act quickly enough.
The national poll findings by CBS News were echoed in polls released Tuesday by Time magazine and the Pew Research Center. Perhaps more problematic for Mr. McCain were polls, also taken after the debate and in the midst of the financial crisis, suggesting problems for him in critical states, including Florida and Ohio, which President Bush won in 2004 and which Mr. McCain had been confident of holding, and Pennsylvania, a state that Democrats won last time and that Mr. McCain has put on the top of the list of states he has been trying to win. Complete results for all the polls are at nytimes.com/politics.
Polls by Quinnipiac University, taken Saturday through Monday, showed Mr. Obama ahead in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The Time/CNN battleground polls also showed Mr. Obama with a lead in Minnesota and Virginia, a state that has been on the top of the pickup lists for Mr. Obama.
The CBS News national survey suggested a toxic atmosphere for incumbents in general, but particularly for Republicans. The approval rating for Congress is down to 15 percent, another historic low for the Times/CBS News poll.
The CBS News poll found economic anxiety among Americans as high as it has ever been in the history of the poll. Nine in 10 Americans said the economy was in very bad or fairly bad shape, the highest measure on that score since The Times and CBS News began asking the question in September 1986. (The percentage who said that the economy was in very good shape was less than 1 percent.) And the number of Americans who thought the economy was getting worse, 76 percent, set another record: the gloomiest Americans have been since the question was first asked in April 1974.
The CBS News poll, of 1,257 adults, including 1,113 registered voters, was conducted Saturday through Tuesday and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
The polling comes on the eve of the vice-presidential debate between Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, a Republican, and Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, and provides new evidence that Ms. Palin’s standing among voters has declined since Mr. McCain chose her as his running mate in August.
The Pew poll found that 51 percent of respondents said she was not qualified to be president, compared with 37 percent who said she was. That is a reversal from early last month, when 52 percent of respondents said Ms. Palin was qualified to be president.