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Economic turmoil propels Obama, Pa. poll finds

| Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008

The sinking economy is buoying Barack Obama's prospects over John McCain in Pennsylvania, a statewide poll of registered voters shows.

Obama maintains a 7-point lead, 45 percent to 38 percent -- about the same advantage he held in August, according to a Franklin & Marshall Poll conducted between Sept. 23 and Sunday for the Tribune-Review, WTAE-TV and other news outlets.

"It's not like there is a sea-change on the outside, but if you look inside the poll, the fundamentals are shifting in Obama's favor," said poll director G. Terry Madonna. "Obama's support is a little better among women and independents, President Bush's job performance is down, and the economy is worse. McCain needs some kind of breakout moment."

The poll, a snapshot of the race in Pennsylvania about five weeks before the Nov. 4 election, includes the opinions of 767 registered voters across the state; it has an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Its findings are consistent with three other independent polls, conducted in the past week, that show Obama maintaining a lead of 6 to 8 points.

A Quinnipiac poll released today shows Obama leading McCain by 15 points in Pennsylvania -- 54 percent to 39 percent.

More than half of respondents (52 percent) cited the economy as the primary determinant in their choice for president -- up from 43 percent in August. On a related question, 82 percent said the United States is on the wrong track, compared to just 13 percent who believe the country is headed in the right direction.

Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, is viewed as more able to handle the economy by 46 percent of those surveyed, compared to 37 percent for McCain.

Yet, more than half (57 percent) named McCain, 72, as having the experience needed to be president, compared to just 28 percent for Obama, 47.

Earl Higgins, 64, of Reading, who participated in the survey, backs McCain because he believes the Republican "probably has a better grip on the economy."

"McCain is a strong supporter of the defense of the United States," Higgins, a retired district forester, said in a follow-up interview. "I'm definitely a conservative, and I don't want a socialist-type government, and I figure that's what I'm going to get with the other side."

Obama is picked by 61 percent of participants as the candidate who better understands the concerns of ordinary Americans, compared to 28 percent who feel that way about McCain.

Retired school teacher Rebecca Beatty, 68, of Monroeville backs Obama.

"He exudes strength and intelligence and seems to have a handle on the problems we are dealing with in our country, especially health care and the economy," Beatty said. "I think we need to go in a new direction."

The perception that McCain would represent a continuation of Bush's policies continues to be a problem for the senator from Arizona. Just 16 percent of those surveyed approve of how the president is handling his job. Forty-nine percent said they feel McCain would most continue the Bush administration's economic policies.

Obama leads among Catholics (45 percent to 38 percent); people with a union member in their household (54 percent to 30 percent); and people older age 55 (43 percent to 39 percent). McCain has an edge among Protestants (48 percent to 36 percent); fundamentalist Christians (50 percent to 37 percent); and veterans (51 percent to 32 percent)

Obama has a distinct lead over McCain in urban Democratic strongholds, including Allegheny County (56 percent to 29 percent) and Philadelphia (72 percent to 13 percent).

McCain leads Obama in northeast Pennsylvania (43 percent to 39 percent) and the northwest (47 percent to 35 percent). The rivals are in a statistical dead heat in the southwest, southeast and central parts of the state.

Obama spokeswoman Allison Price said the poll reflects "a consensus that we can't afford another four years like the last eight."

McCain spokesman Paul Lindsay, referring to an Obama stumble in the run-up to the Pennsylvania primary, said the Democrat "has yet to connect with Pennsylvanians who he insulted as 'bitter.' "

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