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Poll: Obama Gained During Debates

The standing of the Democratic presidential ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden improved during the last few weeks of the presidential campaign, a period that included the three presidential debates and the vice presidential debate, a new CBS News/New York Times poll shows.

In a poll taken just before the first presidential debate, the Obama-Biden ticket held a five point edge, with 48 percent of likely voters backing the Democratic ticket and 43 percent supporting the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Those 476 likely voters were re-interviewed for the new poll, and their responses suggest that the Democratic ticket has made gains since the initial survey: The Obama-Biden ticket now holds a 13-point edge, 54 percent to 41 percent, among the group.

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Nearly all of the voters who supported Obama in the initial poll in September - 98 percent - still do. The Republican ticket has retained 88 percent of its support. Among formerly undecided voters, fifty-two percent now say they favor Obama, while 36 percent support McCain. Twelve percent remain undecided.

Independents now support the Democratic ticket 50 percent to 43 percent. In September, this group backed the Mccain-Palin ticket, 46 percent to 40 percent. Self-described moderates, meanwhile, overwhelmingly favor the Obama-Biden ticket, breaking for the Democrats 66 percent to 30 percent.

Voters' overall favorable opinions of Obama have improved ten points since the initial survey, to 53 percent. His unfavorably rating has also risen - though, at 33 percent, it is 20 points below his favorable rating.

McCain, by contrast, has seen his unfavorable rating rise ten points, to 45 percent. His unfavorable rating is now nine points higher than his favorable rating, which has held steady at 36 percent.

Twenty-one percent say their opinion of Obama has improved since the initial survey, while 14 percent say it has gotten worse. For McCain, the numbers are nearly reversed: Just 12 percent say their opinion of the candidate has improved while 23 percent say it has gotten worse.

Among voters who say their opinion of Obama has improved, the most cited reason is Obama's performance in the debates. Among voters who say their opinion of McCain has worsened, the most cited reason is his attacks on Obama.

Obama is seen as running the more positive campaign. Sixty-five percent say the Democratic nominee is spending more time explaining what he would do as president than attacking his opponent. Sixty-nine percent, meanwhile, say McCain is spending more time attacking Obama than explaining what he would do.

There remains a significant enthusiasm gap between the candidates: While 67 percent of Obama supporters are enthusiastic about their candidate, just 31 percent of McCain supporters are enthusiastic about theirs - a drop of six points.

The trends have been similar among the vice presidential candidates. Biden's favorable rating has risen 14 points since the initial survey, to 50 percent. His unfavorable rating is just 14 percent. Palin, meanwhile, has seen her unfavorable rating rise 12 points, to 41 percent. Her favorable rating has fallen five points, to 30 percent.

More than 1 in 4 says the vice presidential nominees will have a great deal of influence on their vote.

The uncommitted portion of the electorate remains sizable, but it is shrinking. About one in five registered voters are now uncommitted. In September, one in three was.

Candidates On The Issues

Though McCain has been showcasing "Joe The Plumber" in an effort to tie Obama to increased taxes, slightly more of these voters believe McCain would raise their taxes (53 percent) than believe Obama would (51 percent).

Nearly 3 in 4 voters believe Obama cares more about protecting ordinary people than large corporations. Fifty-nine percent believe McCain cares more about protecting large corporations.

Voters have become more pessimistic about the economy since the initial survey. And they weren't terribly optimistic to begin with. Fifty-seven percent now say the condition of the economy is "very bad," up nine points from September. Just six percent say it is "fairly good," down 11 points, while zero percent describe it as "very good."

Fifty-two percent of Americans say they have just enough to pay the bills, up from 45 percent in September. Nineteen percent say they don't have enough to pay the bills. The percentage of respondents who say they have enough to save and buy extras has dropped from 35 percent to 27 percent.

Just nine percent of those surveyed say they are "very confident" that McCain would make the right decisions on the economy, down seven points from before the first debate. Half of those surveyed are not confident McCain would make the right decisions.

Thirty-four percent are "very confident" in Obama when it comes to the economy, while 36 percent are not confident.

McCain retains a small edge on dealing with the war in Iraq. Thirty-one percent are "very confident" in the Republican nominee on the issue, while 40 percent are not confident. For Obama, 24 percent are "very confident" while 45 percent are not confident.

It is Obama, however, whom more voters see as better in handling a crisis. Fifty-two percent express confidence that the Illinois senator could deal wisely with a crisis, while 44 percent say the same of McCain.

Sixty percent say McCain would continue the policies of the unpopular Republican president, George W. Bush. Thirty-two percent say he would change course.

Obama continues to have the advantage on empathy: Seventy percent say he understands their needs and problems, while 47 percent say the same of McCain. The Republican nominee is still seen as more likely to be an effective commander-in-chief: forty-eight percent say McCain is "very likely" to be effective, while 27 percent say the same of Obama.

This poll was conducted by telephone October 17-19, 2008 among 518 adults first interviewed by CBS News and the New York Times September 21-24, 2008. CBS News re-interviewed 476 registered voters for this poll. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus four percentage points. The error on measures of individual change is much smaller.
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