Leadership and Change

After a year positioning himself as the change candidate, Barack Obama owns the issue. On leadership overall, though, it’s a far closer call.

Likely voters by 60-34 percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll say Obama would do more than McCain to bring needed change to Washington. That’s roughly where they’ve been since March, with the exception of a 51-39 percent result just after the Republican convention, a gain for McCain that didn’t hold.

The result is another of several that conjure up the 1992 election. Bill Clinton held a 25-point lead over George H. W. Bush on who’d do the best job “bringing needed changes,” almost identical to Obama’s 26-point lead today. (As we’ve reported previously, Obama’s also the first Democrat since Clinton to lead on taxes, and the first since Clinton to hold a clear lead in trust to handle the economy – the dominant issue now as then.)

McCain is more competitive on leadership; likely voters divide, 49-46 percent, Obama-McCain, on who’s the stronger leader. That’s better for McCain than Obama’s 56-39 percent lead on this question Oct. 11; but worse than McCain’s best, a 53-40 percent lead back in March. For a candidate who’s campaigned heavily on experience and judgment, McCain must have been looking to do better on leadership in the final week.

Beyond Republicans and conservatives, McCain does best on leadership with evangelical white Protestants (72 percent pick him as the stronger leader than Obama) and rural voters (59 percent). But it’s closer in some other groups, such as whites (53 percent) and men (51 percent).

Views on change are more lopsided; just Republicans, conservatives and evangelical white Protestants pick McCain over Obama as best to bring needed change. Rural voters divide by 47-41 percent, Obama-McCain. Obama preferred on change by 54 percent of whites, and, in the political center, by 58 percent of independents.

…and Hispanics

Separately, we’ve taken another look at Hispanic voters in our tracking poll. As in past years they’re somewhat less engaged politically: While 83 percent of whites and 82 percent of blacks report being registered to vote, that declines to 67 percent of Hispanics. (Some, of course, are not citizens, and therefore ineligible to register.) Moreover, among registereds, 63 percent of blacks and 59 percent of whites are following the election “very closely”; among Hispanics that declines to 45 percent.

Whites account for about three-quarters of likely voters, blacks for about one in 10 and Hispanics for 6 percent – each group essentially matching its share of 2004 turnout, per the network exit poll. In one interesting difference, though, Hispanics are far more likely to identify themselves as first-time voters – 31 percent do so, compared with 19 percent of blacks and 9 percent of whites.

As far as vote preference, using our aggregate data over the past 14 nights for a good sample size, Hispanics favor Obama over McCain by a wide 69-28 percent, much like their Democratic vs. Republican vote for House seats in 2006 (69-30 percent) and similar to Clinton’s 72 percent support from Hispanics in 1996. Al Gore won 62 percent of Hispanics in 2000, John Kerry 58 percent in 2004, though a less-reliable 2004 exit poll figure of 53 percent often is reported.

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