Poll: Trouble Signs in Obama's Lead

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After two weeks of sharpened attacks between the campaigns, Barack Obama is maintaining a narrow 5% lead over John McCain in the race for the White House, a new TIME poll shows. Overall, the poll shows Obama leading McCain 46% to 41% when undecided voters with a slight preference are included (the margin of error was plus or minus three percentage points). That gap is the same as the presumptive Democratic nominee held in June.

With three months to go before election day, Obama's advantage is largest on atmospheric issues: he is seen as far more likeable and a greater force for change than McCain. Asked which candidate is most likeable, Obama beats McCain 65% to 20%; as for which is the real candidate for change, he leads 61% to 17%. Obama also beats McCain 48% to 35% on who understands voters' concerns best, another key indicator of appeal.

But on specific issues, Obama is treading water or sinking a bit. On the number one issue of the campaign right now, the economy, Obama leads McCain 43%-39%, compared to 44%-37% reported by TIME's poll in June. Despite his highly touted tour of Europe, the Middle East and Afghanistan last month, Obama may be in something of a late summer slump. The poll shows that voters have increased their faith in McCain's ability to manage the Iraq war, favoring him over Obama by a margin of 51%-36%, a five point jump since June. And voters boosted their belief that McCain would do a better job in managing the war on terror than they did in June, favoring the Arizona Senator over his colleague from Illinois by a 56%-29% margin, up from 53%-33% in June.

Obama did get good news from some segments of the population. Women now favor him by ten percentage points over McCain, 49%-39%. That seems to quell the notion that women would penalize Obama for beating Hillary Clinton in the primary. And Obama is holding his own with males, as he and McCain split them 43% each. McCain is leading Obama by seven points, 47%-40% among white voters, but that is well short of George W. Bush's 58%-41% edge over John Kerry in exit polls from the 2004 election. Obama, meanwhile, is getting the votes of 85% of blacks to McCain's 6%.

McCain is lagging in enthusiasm. Forty-nine percent of Obama voters describe themselves as "very enthusiastic," compared to just 21% of McCain backers, and a full 27% of the Republican nominee's supporters say they are either "not very" or "not at all" enthusiastic about him, compared with 10% for Obama.

George W. Bush, meanwhile, appears to still be a factor in the race to succeed him. Bush's approval rating hovers steadily at 29%. The percentage of people who disapprove of Bush who are supporting the Republican candidate anyway — a key indicator of the election — reveals how close the race remains. McCain is getting the support of 20% of voters who disapprove of Bush's handling of his job. Most pollsters believe that McCain will need closer to 30% of "Bush disapprovers" to beat Obama in November.

The poll was conducted for TIME between July 31 and August 4 by Abt SRBI