Democrat Barack Obama leads Republican John McCain by 47 percent to 41 percent in the 2008 race for the White House, according to the first NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted after Mr. Obama wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination.
Mr. Obama's edge, outside the survey's 3.1 percentage point margin of error, suggests that the Illinois senator has made some political headway since emerging from his extended primary battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton. In April, as that battle continued, Mr. Obama led Mr. McCain by a narrower 46 percent to 43 percent margin.
The backdrop for his standing remains an auspicious political environment for Democrats. The Republican incumbent, President George W. Bush, continued to be saddled with low approval ratings; 28 percent of registered voters approve of his job performance, fewer than half of the 66 percent who disapprove. Seven in 10 voters say the U.S. is headed "off on the wrong track" and "in a state of decline."
Yet Mr. Obama has not fully seized the broader desire for change reflected in the poll. By a 51 percent to 35 percent margin, voters say they prefer that a Democrat win the White House in November rather than a Republican—a much larger edge than Mr. Obama enjoys over Mr. McCain.
Those findings suggest that Mr. Obama retains some vulnerabilities among key constituencies—vulnerabilities that Mrs. Clinton argued unsuccessfully would make her a more electable Democratic nominee against Mr. McCain. While leading overall, Mr. Obama trails among men, whites, older voters and suburbanites.
Amid record gas prices and slow growth, economic issues remain the public's dominant priority. Voters call job creation and economic growth the top priority for Washington, ahead of the Iraq war. Energy and the cost of gas rank just behind Iraq.
Among the best news for Democrats is that voters appear to identify hard times with Mr. Bush and his party, even though Democrats now control both the House and Senate and thus share power with the president.
The approval rating for Congress, 13 percent, is less than half Mr. Bush's. Nevertheless, by 52 percent to 33 percent, voters say they want the November election to produce another Congress controlled by Democrats, not Republicans.