WASHINGTON — Barack Obama leads John McCain nationally by a margin of 46 percent to 42 percent, opening his biggest edge since the campaign entered the fall stretch after the two major party conventions, according to a new Ipsos-McClatchy poll.
Obama's four-point lead marks steady if small gains the Illinois Democrat has made in the poll since Labor Day. Over four weekly surveys, he's gone from being down by one point to tied, up by one point and now up by four.
It's also consistent with other new polling results released Wednesday. A Quinnipiac University survey found that Obama is inching ahead in three battleground states — Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania — while a Time magazine poll found that Obama has opened a 7-point lead over McCain. A CBS News poll had Obama leading 50 to 41 percent, a 9-point spread.
One key reason for his gain over the past week could be Friday's kickoff debate between the two major party candidates. A separate Ipsos/McClatchy online poll of undecided voters, taken Monday, found that a majority thought that Obama did better in the 90-minute face-off by a margin of nearly 3-2. The online survey isn't a random sample of the population and has no statistical margin of error; its value is that it's illustrative of public attitudes, much like a focus group, although it's not scientific.
Despite Obama's gains, the race remains close, and the poll showed that neither candidate has won over a majority of registered voters.
The telephone survey of registered voters found 46 percent supporting Obama, 42 percent for McCain, 2 percent for independent candidate Ralph Nader and 1 percent for Libertarian candidate Bob Barr. Another 9 percent were undecided.
Nearly one in 10 voters with a candidate preference say they could still change their minds, underscoring the stakes for the vice presidential debate on Thursday night and the two remaining presidential debates on Oct. 7 and Oct 15. Each will be televised nationally at 9 pm EDT.
The separate online poll measured how undecided voters judged last Friday's debate between McCain and Obama.
It found undecided voters saying Obama did a better job by a margin of 58-42 percent. They reached that conclusion after not only watching at least some of the 90-minute debate Friday night, but also after watching the post-debate analysis on TV, reading about it in newspapers or online, or listening to the radio over the weekend.
McCain scored on questions of foreign policy and military leadership.
The undecideds emerged trusting McCain more than Obama to be commander in chief by a margin of 68-32 per cent. By 59-27 percent, voters thought he'd better protect the United States from foreign attack, and by 55-40 percent they thought McCain demonstrated that he was tough enough for the job.
Obama scored, as well.
By 48-30, voters thought he'd do better than McCain at improving U.S. standing abroad, by 43-30 they thought he expressed himself more clearly, and they found him more likeable by 42-24 percent.
Some 45 percent said McCain "was presidential," while 42 percent said the same about Obama. They tilted 53-49 percent in favor of McCain on who had a good understanding of the issues.
Ultimately, however, Obama got a slight edge coming out. When pressed to say how they might vote after taking it all in, 53 percent of the undecided voters interviewed online said they were leaning toward Obama and 47 percent said they were leaning toward McCain.
The Quinnipiac poll found that Obama was benefitting from three factors: his debate performance, rising anxiety about the economy, and poor marks for McCain running mate Sarah Palin.
"Sen. Obama clearly won the debate, voters say. Their opinion of Gov. Sarah Palin has gone south and the Wall Street meltdown has been a dagger to McCain's political heart," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Connecticut university's polling institute.
"Sen. McCain has his work cut out for him if he is to win the presidency and there does not appear to be a role model for such a comeback in the last half century."
The Quinipiac state-by-state breakdown:
-- Florida: Obama leads 51-43, an eight point margin. He led by six before the debate;
-- Ohio: Obama leads by 50-42, or eight points. He led by seven before the debate;
-- Pennsylvania: Obama leads by 54-39, a 15-point gap. He led by six before the debate.
Other polls show slightly different results, though they also did show some Obama gains.
Scott Rasmussen, for example, found voters in Ohio still giving McCain the edge by 48-47, a one point margin. A week before, McCain had a four-point edge in Ohio.
The Quinnipiac polls were conducted Sept. 27-29 and surveyed between 825 and 836 likely voters in each state. Each state poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
More from McClatchy: