Illinois Senator Barack Obama enters the General Election with a tight lead, 43% to 38%, over Arizona Senator John McCain, according to a new TIME magazine poll of likely voters. The poll shows Obama gaining only a slight bounce from Hillary Clinton's departure from the campaign early this month.
When undecided voters leaning towards Obama and McCain are accounted for, the race narrows to 47% to 43%, barely above the poll's 3.5% margin of error. Thirty percent of those who remain undecided said they lean towards McCain and 20% said they were leaning toward Obama, with 46% citing no preference. Overall, 28% said they could still change their minds in the four months left before the November election.
After five months of bruising primaries, Obama's lead now is narrower than the one he held over McCain in TIME's poll this past February: 48% to 41%, including leaners. The bright spot for Obama is with Latino voters, a group he overwhelmingly lost to Clinton in the primaries, but now leads 51% to 34% over McCain. Among Catholics, another group Obama struggled with in Democratic primaries, McCain leads Obama 57% to 43%.
The two split Independents, a target demographic for both campaigns, with 44% supporting Obama and 43% McCain's. Obama overwhelmingly won the likability contest with 58% of respondents saying he's more likeable to McCain's 23%. Obama also led McCain among women 45% to 39%.
McCain, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, edged out Obama on national security issues. When asked who "would best protect the U.S. against terrorism," 53% of respondents chose McCain to just 33% for Obama. And nearly half, 48% to Obama's 38%, trusted McCain to handle the war in Iraq, though 57% said they believed the U.S. was wrong to invade Iraq and 56% said they would like to see the troops brought home within the next two years.
The poll, conducted at the end of the second week of Obama's economic tour, found that 44% of people preferred Obama be entrusted with the the economy to McCain's 37%, and 46% said Obama would do a better job at tackling special interest groups compared to 31% for McCain. More than two-thirds, or 68%, felt the economy was getting worse with 27% believing it is holding steady. Only 4% said the economy is improving.
Obama led McCain among all age groups, most notably among young voters 18-34 where he leads 53% to McCain's 42%. McCain, though, led Obama in all income brackets save the poorest, though the two effectively split the rich, 47% for McCain to Obama's 46%. Obama won the support of those making less than $35,000 a year by a margin of 32 percentage points.
Despite all the drama over Obama's church and his former pastor's inflammatory remarks, 40% said they felt he was more comfortable talking about his religious beliefs versus 34% for McCain. And in evidence that McCain has some work to do shoring up social conservative voters, when asked which of the candidates "is closest to your views on so-called values issues, such as abortion and gay marriage," McCain edged out Obama by just a single percentage point, 40% to 39%, even though 51% of respondents opposed gay marriage.
The poll of 805 registered voters surveyed June 19-25 was conducted by ABT SRBI for TIME magazine.