Barack Obama leads John McCain by a 52% to 36% margin in Pew’s latest nationwide survey of 1,325 registered voters. This is the fourth consecutive survey that has found support for the Republican candidate edging down. In contrast, since early October weekly Pew surveys have shown about the same number of respondents saying they back Obama. When the sample is narrowed to those most likely to vote, Obama leads by 53% to 38%.

A breakdown of voting intentions by demographic groups shows that since mid- September, McCain’s support has declined significantly across most voting blocs. Currently, McCain holds a statistically significant advantage only among white evangelical Protestants (aside from Republicans). In addition, Obama runs nearly even with McCain in the so-called red states, all of which George W. Bush won in 2004.

Just as ominous for the Republican candidate, Obama holds a 53% to 34% lead among the sizable minority of voters (15%) who say they have already voted. Among those who plan to vote early but have not yet voted (16% of voters), 56% support Obama, while 37% support McCain.

While Obama’s support levels have not increased much in recent weeks, a growing percentage of his backers now say they support him strongly. Currently, 74% of Obama voters say they support him strongly, up from 65% in mid-September. A much smaller majority of McCain backers (56%) say they support him strongly, which is largely unchanged from mid-September.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Oct. 23-26 among 1,500 adults interviewed on landline and cell phones, for the first time includes minor-party candidates Ralph Nader and Bob Barr. Few voters support either candidate, and their inclusion does not substantially affect the margins of support in the Obama-McCain race.

The survey finds that the proportion of Americans who disapprove of Bush’s job performance has hit a new high in a Pew survey (70%); just 22% now approve of the way Bush is handling his job. Since January, when Bush’s job rating was already quite low, at 31%, his approval mark has declined by nine points.

As disapproval of President Bush’s job performance has edged upward, fewer voters say that McCain would take the country in a different direction from Bush’s. Currently, more voters say McCain would continue Bush’s policies than say he would take the country in a different direction (47% vs. 40%). Just a week ago (Oct. 16-19), voters were divided over whether McCain would continue Bush’s policies or not (44% continue, 45% take new direction).

Favorable ratings for the Republican Party, which rose sharply following the party’s convention in early September, have declined to about their previous levels. Currently, 50% say they have an unfavorable opinion of the GOP, while 40% express a favorable opinion of the party; in mid-September, about as many had a favorable opinion of the Republican Party as an unfavorable one (47% favorable vs. 46% unfavorable).

By contrast, a solid majority (57%) continues to express a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, while 33% have an unfavorable impression. Majorities have expressed positive opinions of the Democratic Party for the past two years (since October 2006).

Obama-McCain Matchup

Coming out of the party conventions in September, Obama and McCain were running even. As the campaign enters the final stretch, Obama maintains a solid lead over McCain, with few significant changes since mid-October among key voter groups.

In mid-September (Sept. 9-14), McCain held significant advantages among those earning more than $75,000 a year, white evangelical Protestants, whites who have not completed college, and white men. Today, he maintains a significant advantage only among white evangelical voters, and has lost the lead or seen it shrink in most other categories.

For example, among voters earning $75,000 a year or more, McCain held a 53% to 39% advantage in the Sept. 9-14 survey. Now, Obama leads by 52% to 41%. After the conventions, McCain held a 52% to 38% edge among white voters. Today, he and Obama are running evenly at 44% each. In September, McCain held a 56% to 34% advantage among white respondents with some college education. Now, the candidates tally 46% each.

Meanwhile, the latest survey shows Obama continuing to dominate among his core support groups. Nearly seven-in-ten voters younger than 30 (68%) say they support the Illinois senator, compared to 24% who say they support McCain. Among women, Obama leads by 20 points (54% to 34%).

Fewer See McCain Taking ‘New Direction’

Since last spring, American voters have been divided over whether McCain would continue President Bush’s policies or take the country in a new direction, should the Republican nominee become president. In the current survey, however, a plurality of voters (47%) say the Republican nominee would continue Bush’s polices while four-in-ten say McCain would take the country in a new direction.

Independent voters have become substantially more likely to say McCain would continue Bush’s policies (37% in mid-October, 48% now) than to say he would take the country in a new direction (50% in mid-October, 38% now). By comparison, there have been no significant changes in opinion among Republican voters or Democratic voters: The vast majority of Republican voters (74%) say McCain would take the country in a different direction, while nearly as many Democratic voters (69%) say he would continue Bush’s policies.

Who Would the Candidates Favor?

Half of voters say that, if elected, McCain “would do too much for wealthy Americans.” Far fewer – just 17% – believe that Obama “would do too much for African Americans” if he is elected. These opinions are largely unchanged since mid-September.

Whites who have not completed college are more likely than white college graduates to say that Obama would do too much for blacks (24% vs. 8%). Nearly half of whites (46%) who have not finished college say that McCain would do too much for the wealthy.

Among all white voters, 19% say, if elected, Obama would do too much for blacks; roughly twice as many (39%) say that McCain, if he is elected, would do too much for the wealthy.

Who Are The Undecideds?

A week before the election, nearly one-in ten voters (8%) remain undecided in their choice for president and there is little to suggest that these voters will move strongly to one candidate or the other on election day.

When undecided voters are asked whether there is a chance they might vote for McCain or for Obama, only 14% indicate a preference for one candidate over the other (7% for McCain and 7% for Obama). More than three-quarters (78%) of the undecideds continue to express uncertainty: about three-in-ten (29%) say they might vote for either of the two candidates, while almost half (49%) say that they do not know if there’s a chance they might vote for either Obama or McCain. The remaining 8% say they will vote for neither candidate.

Undecided voters are less educated, less affluent, and somewhat more likely to be female than the average voter. Nearly half of undecided voters (48%) s
ay they attend religious services at least weekly, which is same as the proportion of McCain supporters. Fewer Obama supporters (31%) say theyattend religious services at least once a week.

On most issues, the positions held by undecided voters fall between those of Obama and McCain supporters, although they are somewhat more similar to McCain supporters on the issue of illegal immigration. Overall, these voters are more likely than supporters of either candidate to say they don’t have an opinion about most issues.

Undecided voters do clearly distinguish themselves from supporters of both McCain and Obama in their lower levels of participation and interest in this election, and partisan politics in general. A majority (51%) of undecideds do not identify with either the Republican or Democratic parties and fewer than half (48%) report having voted in the primaries this year; by contrast, 63% of both Obama and McCain supporters say they voted in a primary.

Fewer than four-in-ten undecided voters (37%) say they are following news about the election very closely. By contrast, majorities of both Obama supporters (56%) and McCain supporters (55%) say they are tracking election news very closely.