Democratic candidate Barack Obama has widened his lead over Republican John McCain in the race for the White House, propelled by rising voter approval of his personal characteristics and his handling of economic issues, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows.
The poll, concluded with just two weeks remaining before the Nov. 4 election, shows Mr. Obama supported by 52 percent of registered voters compared to 42 percent for Mr. McCain. The previous NBC/WSJ poll in early October showed Mr. Obama with a 49 percent to 43 percent lead.
Driving his improved standing was movement toward Mr. Obama among several key constituencies: moderates, white collar workers, suburbanites, Midwesterners, and senior citizens. All those groups have been targeted by Mr. McCain in his advertising, stump speeches and debate performances—with little success.
"The middle of the electorate has shifted from a close race to a wide open race" favoring Mr. Obama, said Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster who conducts the NBC/WSJ poll with Republican counterpart Neil Newhouse. Attacks by Mr. McCain, he added, "just haven't stuck."
On the economy, which has dominated campaign discussion since conditions on Wall Street deteriorated last month, 49 percent of voters rate Mr. Obama superior compared to 28 percent who favor Mr. McCain. That's up from Mr. Obama's 46 percent to 34 percent edge a month ago. On handling the Wall Street crisis in particular, 42 percent of voters favor Mr. Obama's handling of the matter compared to 25 percent who favor Mr. McCain.
On taxes, voters favor Mr. Obama by a similar 48 percent to 34 percent margin. That improvement—the two men were tied on the issue a month ago—has taken place despite Mr. McCain's claims that the Democrat's proposed tax increases on upper-income Americans would harm the economy and leave middle-class Americans poorer as well.
At the same time, Mr. Obama has lifted the public approval of his personal qualities while narrowing Mr. McCain's advantages. Fully 55 percent of Americans now say the first African American nominee in history has a background and values they identity, nearly matching the 57 percent who say that of Mr. McCain. Some 48 percent express confidence in Mr. Obama serving as commander in chief, compared to 50 percent who express confidence in Mr. McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war.
The survey shows advantages for Democrats across the board. By 49 percent to 38 percent, voters say they prefer Democrats to win control of Congress next month rather than Republicans.
In part, that stems from their assessments of the source of the nation's current problems. Some 35 percent of the electorate blamed the Bush administration as the largest single cause, twice as many as blamed Congress. Mr. Bush's current approval rating is just 27 percent, matching his all-time low in the survey, while 66 percent disapprove of his job performance.