With both party conventions completed and just eight weeks to go until the presidential election, the race between Barack Obama and John McCain seems to have settled into a dead heat. Both candidates have solidified their support among voters already converted to their respective pre-convention messages, but McCain appears to have had more success winning over new backers during the last several weeks.
McCain leads Obama 46 percent to 44 percent in the most recent CBS News poll [PDF], a 10 percentage point swing since a poll taken immediately after the Democratic convention wrapped up in Denver. Obama holds a 1 point edge in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll [PDF], but he led in the previous survey (taken before both conventions) by 6 points.
The surge of support for McCain came principally from one voting group: white women. ABC/Post reports that, whereas this demographic previously broke for Obama, 50 percent to 42 percent, McCain now holds a 53-41 advantage. One possible explanation for the group's 20 point swing towards McCain is his choice of a running mate: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin enjoys a high favorability rating among white women -- 67 percent -- and 58 percent of them said her selection boosted their opinion of McCain himself.
McCain has also seen success in seizing the "change" mantle from Obama. Fewer than 4 in 10 ABC/Post respondents said McCain would bring change to Washington, compared with 51 percent for Obama, but that represents a significant gain for the GOP candidate: Obama held a 32 point advantage on this measure in June's survey. Meanwhile, 42 percent of McCain backers in CBS' survey now report that they are "enthusiastic" about his candidacy, a steep climb from 24 percent in late August; Obama maintains an advantage on this measure, though, with 53 percent of his supporters saying they are enthusiastic.
Obama seems to have fallen short in addressing some of his perceived weaknesses during his party's convention, however. A 52-percent majority of CBS respondents reported that they do not consider Obama prepared to be president. And just one quarter called it very likely that Obama would make an effective commander in chief, compared with 55 percent saying the same of his opponent. More than half of ABC/Post respondents said Obama has not done enough to explain how his message of change will translate into concrete policy proposals. And about one quarter of Hillary Rodham Clinton voters told ABC/Post pollsters that they were voting for McCain in November; just half said they would definitely vote for Obama.
When it comes to particular issues, voters see Obama as a more capable leader when it comes to the economy, social issues, education and fiscal discipline. McCain, meanwhile, is deemed more able to handle the war in Iraq, terrorism, foreign policy and unexpected crises.
McCain may be boasting a post-convention bounce in the national polls, but a Fox News/Rasmussen survey [PDF] of likely voters in Colorado, Florida, Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania suggests a competitive two months ahead. Just a handful of percentage points separate the presidential hopefuls in those states, with the biggest gap -- McCain's 6 point lead in Ohio -- still a close one. What could be trouble for Obama, though, is that voters in all these states still indicate they are less comfortable with him as president than McCain.
Florida is at a dead heat between the candidates, despite earlier predictions that this state would lean right. Colorado, too, has generally trended Republican in presidential contests, but Obama is actually besting McCain there, 49 percent to 46 percent. And in Virginia, which hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson, Obama is within 2 points of McCain. The more traditional battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania split between the two, with McCain up in Ohio and Obama holding the lead in Pennsylvania. (All general election match-ups included Libertarian candidate Bob Barr, independent candidate Ralph Nader and Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney, none of whom drew more than 2 percent.)
Despite the close race, Obama continues to face hurdles selling himself to voters: Voters in all five states said they trust McCain more, feel more comfortable with him as president and, if faced with the toughest decision of their lives, would more likely turn to McCain than Obama for advice. Although the "comfort gap" is relatively small in most of the five swing states, differences such as McCain's 13-point lead in perceived trustworthiness among Ohioans means Obama will face an uphill battle trying to chip away at McCain in these tight contests.