"Why, in a year when the nation clearly has rejected the GOP as a party, does" John McCain "have a real chance to be elected?" Robert Novak wondered today in his column. It's not an unusual question to hear in Washington these days, with national polls consistently putting Barack Obama just a few percentage points ahead of McCain, despite the enthusiasm behind Obama's run and voters' apparent preference for the Democratic Party.
Gallup's daily tracker, for example, currently shows Obama up 3 points -- just inside the survey's 2-point margin of error. According to Gallup's trend data, Obama has enjoyed a statistically significant lead over McCain only a handful of times since June.
Recent polling from ABC News and the Washington Post finds a slightly bigger lead for Obama -- 8 points among registered voters -- but it also identifies some of the challenges his campaign faces. For instance, the percentage of Democrats who said they wanted Hillary Rodham Clinton as the party's nominee actually rose 2 points in the month since she withdrew from the primary campaign, while the percentage of Democrats supporting Obama fell 5 points.
Barring a last-minute convention coup, however, Obama will be the one facing McCain this fall, and Americans continue to rate the Arizona senator higher on issues of national security and foreign affairs. Respondents to the ABC/Post poll split evenly at 48 percent on the question of whether Obama would make an effective commander in chief; nearly three in four said McCain would. A half-sample judged McCain more able to make foreign policy decisions based on his knowledge of world affairs, and half of all respondents said they would most trust him to handle a "sudden crisis," compared with 41 percent for Obama.
But even outside of national security concerns, McCain held Obama to a draw on a host of issues, including some that would seem integral to the Illinois senator's campaign themes of change and honesty. When asked to pick which candidate was more trustworthy, respondents gave Obama the edge, 45 percent to 38 percent, but when asked whose positions were more consistent, they gave Obama only a 2-point advantage. And a 48 percent plurality of respondents said Obama hasn't done enough to explain what "change" would mean in his administration.
Obama's campaign isn't blind to the lingering doubts some voters have over his national security cred, and the candidate's trip to the Middle East and Europe this week is widely viewed as an attempt to address those concerns. But the ABC/Post poll suggests another factor that could be distorting the picture: voter fatigue. The percentage of people who say they're following the race has fallen 10 points since May, and the number who say they've completely tuned out has more than doubled, to 12 percent. Until more of these voters start tuning in after the party conventions, head-to-head numbers will give only a partial picture of how the race could play out.
Blame Falls On Government For Lagging Food Safety
The recent salmonella outbreak has triggered concern around the country about food safety and proposals on Capitol Hill for stricter inspections of fresh produce. New data shows that most Americans are not too wary of their food, yet they overwhelmingly support increasing federal standards for produce. The survey coincides with the Food and Drug Administration's announcement that the outbreak -- which sickened 1,220 people -- is over and tomatoes should be considered safe again.
More than three-quarters of respondents in a new Associated Press/Ipsos Public Affairs poll [PDF] said they were confident the food they buy is safe, but that number dipped to just under 70 percent when they were asked about their confidence in the government's ability to keep food safe.
An overwhelming 8 in 10 respondents said they support establishing stricter federal safety standards for fresh produce. On top of that, 86 percent said they support labeling produce so the origin can be tracked in case of an outbreak. This issue is one the government is still grappling with; it has yet to pinpoint the origin of the salmonella. The FDA's concern has now shifted to jalapeno peppers.
Americans also show a lack of confidence in the number of inspectors the government has designated to check for food safety. While just under half of the respondents said they were confident with the number of inspectors for food being grown and packaged in U.S. facilities, that number dropped to 4 in 10 when pollsters asked about imported food.
Broad Support Found For Gays In The Military
It's been 15 years since the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy was implemented by President Clinton, and a new poll shows that Americans' attitudes on the issue have shifted dramatically. Three-quarters of respondents in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll [PDF] said they support gays serving in the military, even to an extent that goes against the current policy.
Three-quarters of poll respondents support members of the military who are openly gay, up a whopping 31 percentage points since May 1993 and 13 points since January 2001, the end of the Clinton administration. The number of respondents voicing support for gays in the military who have not disclosed their orientation has also increased -- from 63 percent in 1993, to 75 percent in 2001, to 78 percent now.
Although support has typically been higher among Democrats and women, the survey finds that majorities of nearly all groups -- including Republicans and evangelicals -- now favor gays in the military, regardless of whether they disclose their orientation. One group, however, has yet to show strong support for gays who disclose. Only about 50 percent of veterans indicated they were in favor of openly gay people serving, but that number jumped to about 70 percent for gays who didn't "tell."