Ideological Fire Misses the Mark
Despite strong GOP efforts to define Barack Obama as "too liberal" and an equally pointed Democratic campaign aimed at labeling John McCain as "too conservative," voters' impressions of the main presidential contenders' ideological leanings have budged little since June, according to a new release from the Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll.
McCain has argued consistently that Obama's policy views closely resemble those of a typical tax-and-spend liberal, and Obama has countered by portraying McCain as a repackaged version of George W. Bush's compassionate conservative, minus the compassion. But neither candidate appears to have made great inroads here: The proportions of likely voters who consider Obama as too far left, 40 percent, and McCain as too far right, 38 percent, both have held basically steady.
A majority in the new poll, 55 percent, said Obama's views on most issues are "just about right," about the same as in a Post-ABC poll ten days ago, and on par with mid-summer results. The percentage who view McCain as such is lower, but also relatively unchanged.
Although there has been little evident direct effect, for McCain, making the argument may be doing more harm than good. What was an even split in May on which candidate has higher personal and ethical standards has become a double-digit Obama advantage. Nearly half, 49 percent, of voters give Obama the advantage on the question, compared with 39 percent for McCain.
Obama has solidified Democrats on the question over the course of the campaign, while Republicans have increasingly shifted to McCain. It's in the political middle where McCain's stumble on this question is most important: Back in May, McCain held a nearly 20-point advantage as the one with higher standards among white independent voters - that has now evaporated, with voters in this critical group evenly divided.
African American voters have completely abandoned McCain on this question, as they have on the vote question. In May, 12 percent chose him as the candidate with higher moral standards, but in the new poll, none gave the senator from Arizona an advantage (though two percent said the two candidates held equally high principles).
The overall shift on this question mirrors other recent findings suggesting McCain's straight-talk image may be eroding. In a Post-ABC poll conducted in mid-October, nearly six in 10 voters said McCain was mainly attacking his opponent rather than addressing the issues, and a tracking poll earlier this week found Obama with a 17-point advantage as the candidate with the better personality and temperament to be president.
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