Obama’s poll lead and a very predictable public

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The collapsing financial system and the public’s response to last week’s presidential debate propelled Barack Obama into his broadest opinion poll lead over John McCain since the Democratic convention in late August.

By Edward Luce in Washington

Polls released on Wednesday showed Mr Obama had taken a strong lead over Mr McCain in the important swing states of Ohio and Florida, which have tipped the outcome of previous contests.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll, Mr Obama leads Mr McCain by 51 to 43 per cent in Florida, by 50 to 42 per cent in Ohio and by 54 to 39 per cent in Pennsylvania. The two were much closer before last Friday’s debate, where most observers agreed Mr Obama’s performance made him look more presidential.

In addition, a poll on Wednesday by the Pew Research Centre showed Mr Obama with a national lead of 49 per cent to 42 per cent after being in a dead heat for most of September. It also showed voters trusted Mr Obama over Mr McCain to handle the continuing financial crisis by a margin of 46 per cent to 33 per cent.

And it showed that voters had turned against Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential running mate, who will debate with her counterpart, Joe Biden, in Missouri tonight.

According to Pew, 51 per cent of voters said she was not qualified for the job against just 37 per cent saying that she was – a near reversal from the picture shortly after her debut at the Republican convention four weeks ago.

However, Democrats warned against assuming the latest shift would continue given the unusually volatile mood being shown by the electorate.

“If this election were taking place next Tuesday then I would be predicting an Obama victory,” said Donna Brazile, campaign manager for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential bid. “But we have 33 days left of this race and if we have learned anything from the last few weeks it is that the public is capable of changing its mind very quickly.”

Leo Hindery, a former policy head for John Edwards, the failed Democratic candidate, said that every election faced a game-changing “October surprise”.

An al-Qaeda video helped tip it in George W. Bush’s favour four years ago, he said. This time, the surprise is the financial crash.

“At the moment Obama is benefiting from the crisis,” he said. “But if a Goldman Sachs or a Citibank gets hit 10 days before the election then voters who are worried about their retirement funds may prefer to see an angry John McCain than a cerebral Barack Obama.

The Financial Times

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