WASHINGTON — Barack Obama leads John McCain by his widest margin yet, according to a new Ipsos/McClatchy poll, as the two men enter their final debate Wednesday night, their last chance to reach tens of millions of voters at the same time.
Obama leads by 51 percent to 42 percent when voters are given a choice of only the two major-party candidates.
He leads by the same margin when voters are given a choice among four candidates:
- Obama, the Democratic candidate, 48 percent.
- McCain, the Republican candidate, 39 percent.
- Independent candidate Ralph Nader, 2 percent.
- Libertarian candidate Bob Barr, 1 percent.
- Undecided or supporting another candidate, 10 percent.
Either way, Obama's 9-point lead was outside the poll's 3 percentage-point margin of error, and was 2 points greater than the lead he had last week.
It also was consistent with another set of polls released Tuesday that found that Obama has surpassed critical 50 percent supposed level in four key battleground states — Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Quinnipiac University poll also found that for the first time, Obama leads McCain among white voters in all four states.
In the Ipsos/McClatchy poll, voters, looking ahead to the next presidency, were divided over which issues should take precedence given the demands and strains of the economic crisis. Thirty-two percent said health care and 31 percent said energy. Farther down on the to-do list, 19 percent said defense and 15 percent education.
The survey came on the eve of the third and final debate between the two candidates, scheduled for 9 p.m. EDT Wednesday at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
With an audience likely to top 50 million, and his own budget limiting his ability to match Obama with television ads, McCain probably needs a game-changing performance in the 90-minute debate if he's to stop and reverse the pro-Obama trend in the campaign's final three weeks.
The survey found the Illinois senator leading in most demographics:
- Up by 4 points among men and 13 points among women.
- Up by 26 points among voters younger than 35, down by a point among those aged 35 to 54 and up by 8 points among older voters.
- Down by 8 points among whites, up by 87 among blacks, up by 50 among Hispanics and up by 8 among other races and ethnicities.
- Up by 23 points in the Northeast, 14 in the West and 5 in the Midwest, and tied in the South.
The survey was conducted after McCain and running mate Sarah Palin had hit Obama for days for his relationship with William Ayers, a 1960s radical who's now a Chicago university professor and whose ties to Obama are slight.
Voters noticed the attacks: Fifty-three percent said that McCain was engaging in more attacks; 30 percent said Obama was.
As to whether negative campaigning works, 39 percent called it effective and 57 percent said it was ineffective.
The poll also found that voters' thoughts are starting to firm up.
Among Obama supporters, 85 percent said they'd definitely vote for him, up 6 points from the week before. Among McCain supporters, 82 percent said they'd definitely vote for him, also up 6 points.
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