Obama Moves Past McCain on Leadership—A Polling Glitch or Genuine Trend

Is this a polling glitch, or blowback from a vicious campaign?

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Polling anomaly or unnoted harbinger? One intriguing result from Sunday's Washington Post/ABC poll (which showed Barack Obama maintaining a narrow, 4 percent lead among likely voters) was the Democratic candidate's vault over John McCain on the question of leadership.

For the first time all spring and summer, when voters answered the question "Who is the stronger leader?" Obama beat his Republican foe.

The reversal is pretty dramatic. In March, those surveyed chose McCain as the stronger leader by a 53-40 margin. In June, McCain had a 47-44 lead. But in the August poll, Obama beats McCain by five points, 49-44. That is an 18-point switch in four months.

Maybe, as Joe Biden suggested in his speech on Saturday, Obama is beginning to get some credit for weathering the Republican attacks. And perhaps McCain is being penalized for running a negative campaign and coming across as divisive.

According to the Post/ABC poll, 64 percent of those surveyed think Obama is addressing the issues, and 29 percent believe he is intent on attacking McCain. The voters had a quite different picture of McCain, however, with 48 percent saying the Republican was primarily interested in attacking Obama and just 45 percent saying that McCain was addressing their concerns.

The Post/ABC survey ratified the results of the Battleground Poll, a survey taken by a bipartisan team of pollsters, which was released earlier this month. When asked who was waging the more negative campaign, respondents in the Battleground survey chose McCain over Obama by 50 to 21 percent. Today's CNN-Gallup poll had a similar result, with nearly half of those polled saying McCain had attacked Obama unfairly.

There are certainly signs that McCain has scored points with his attacks. In the Battleground poll, for instance, independent voters said that the more they heard about McCain, the more they were inclined to vote for him, but that the more they heard about Obama, the less they would support him.

If a relentlessly negative campaign worked without exacting any political cost for the attacker, however, Mitt Romney would be the Republican nominee.

As McCain said after surviving Romney's televised assaults in the Republican primary season, "Negative campaigns don't work."