WASHINGTON — John McCain approaches his first debate with Barack Obama with a decided advantage among voters on the issues of national security and foreign policy, the subjects of their showdown Friday night, according to a new Ipsos-McClatchy poll.
McCain is at a disadvantage with voters, however, on the issues of jobs and the economy, where Obama is viewed as stronger. With the country's financial system in crisis, those concerns are dominating voters' minds by a large margin, the poll found.
Yet neither candidate had an advantage on the crisis in the mortgage and financial system; voters split almost evenly over which one was best suited to manage the mess. Neither had majority support. McCain was judged "qualified" to resolve the crisis by 46 percent of registered voters and Obama by 45 percent.
The net effect: The two men remain neck and neck for the third week in a row. Obama was supported by 44 percent of registered voters, McCain by 43 percent. The poll of registered voters had an error margin of 3.2 percentage points. It was taken from Thursday through Monday.
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Independent candidate Ralph Nader and Libertarian candidate Bob Barr each were supported by 2 percent. Another 5 percent supported none of the four, and 4 percent said they didn't know whom they supported.
"Republicans have historically done better on the issues of national security and foreign policy," said Clifford Young, a senior vice president at Ipsos Public Affairs, which conducted the poll of 923 registered voters nationwide.
"But the key issue, the 1,000-pound gorilla in the room, is the economy. And Obama is trending better on that. That could be indicative of things to come."
The poll was conducted days before McCain and Obama face off for the first of three one-on-one debates. Friday's event, a 90-minute debate devoted to foreign policy and national security, will be at the University of Mississippi and televised nationally starting at 9 p.m. EDT.
Their second debate, on Oct. 7 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., will be a town-hall format covering domestic and foreign-policy questions.
The third, on Oct. 15 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., will focus on domestic issues and the economy.
The only vice-presidential debate will be Oct. 2 at Washington University in St. Louis.
Overall, 36 percent of voters ranked jobs and the economy their top concern, followed by 16 percent saying national security, 12 percent leadership, 9 percent change, 8 percent health care, 8 percent family values, 5 percent foreign policy and 2 percent taxes.
Voters preferred McCain over Obama on national security by 60-32 percent. They preferred McCain over Obama on foreign policy by 53-39 percent, and they give McCain the nod on leadership by 50-42 percent.
Voters said their top issue now is jobs and the economy, however, and they preferred Obama over McCain to handle that by 48-40 percent.
Subgroups that were more likely to side with Obama as stronger on jobs and the economy include 18- to 34-year-olds, who break 59-31 percent for Obama over McCain; those in households that make less than $25,000 a year, who break 56-34 percent for Obama over McCain; Hispanics, who break 64-28 percent in Obama's favor; and non-Hispanic blacks, who tilt to Obama by 88-9 percent on this issue.
McCain is seen as stronger than Obama on jobs and the economy by Southerners, 49-41 percent, and non-Hispanic whites, by 48-39 percent.
Overall, registered voters see Obama as representing change more than McCain by 57-32. And they prefer Obama over McCain to handle health care by 50-36 percent.
In a bit of a surprise, voters say Obama is stronger than McCain on taxes by 47-41 percent. Obama would cut taxes for most taxpayers in part by extending the Bush tax cuts for most people, but he'd raise taxes for those who make more than $200,000. McCain would make the expiring Bush tax cuts permanent for all taxpayers.
These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted Thursday through Monday. For the survey, Ipsos interviewed a nationally representative, randomly selected sample of 1,068 adults across the United States. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within plus or minus 3.0 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would've been had the entire adult population in the U.S. been polled. Within this sample, Ipsos interviewed 923 respondents who identified themselves as registered voters. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within plus or minus 3.2 percentage points. All numbers in the news story reflect the survey of registered voters only. The margin of error will be larger within regions and for other sub-groupings of the survey population. These data were weighted to ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the U.S. population according to U.S. Census figures. Interviews were conducted with respondents on land-line telephones and cellular phones. Respondents had the option to be interviewed in English or Spanish.
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