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Experience a key John McCain advantage in new L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll

August 19, 2008 |  1:59 pm

When last we had a L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll to peruse, the result that stood out (aside from Barack Obama's 12-percentage point lead over John McCain in a head-to-head match-up) was what we termed the "passion gap" -- a marked difference in enthusiasm levels that favored the Democrat in the June survey.

A new poll finds Republican John McCain making gains in the presidential race The new, just-released poll not only shows the race between the two dramatically tightening -- into a virtual dead heat, with Obama leading in the head-to-head by only 2 percentage points -- but it also identifies a distinct McCain asset: a huge advantage on the question of experience.

The survey of almost 1,250 registered voters showed that the vast majority have no doubt McCain is qualified for the White House. Asked if the Republican had the right experience to be president, 80% said yes (with only 14% saying no).

By contrast, close to a majority -- 48% -- said Obama lacks the experience for the job (with 44% saying yes).

The findings indicate that the McCain camp's controversial advertising thrust of late -- depicting Obama as a mere "celebrity" who isn't "ready to lead" -- has paid dividends.

The findings also suggest that to stem the inroads McCain has made against him, Obama needs to change the conversation. After all, it's not as if he's going to be able to substantially beef up his resume in the 2 1/2 months until election day.

Next week's Democratic National Convention in Denver may enable Obama to make up some ground in another category where McCain has a significant edge over him -- the matter of patriotism.

The new poll found that 84% judged McCain strongly patriotic, while just 55% said that of Obama. Only 9% said they have questions about McCain's patriotism; 35% expressed doubts about Obama's.

The survey posed a number of questions about the potential impact of race on the presidential race, which The Times' Michael Finnegan explores elsewhere on LATimes.com.

The poll's match-up numbers are these: Obama, 45%; McCain 43%. By comparison, the June numbers were Obama, 49%; McCain, 37% (in each case, the margin of error is plus-or-minus 3 percentage points).

When Ralph Nader and Bob Barr are added to the mixed, the race tightens even more. The results in the four-way contest: Obama, 42%; McCain, 41%; Nader, 4%; Barr, 1%.

In June, the four-way race had slightly expanded Obama's lead. Those figures were Obama, 48%; McCain 33%; Nader, 4%; Barr, 3%.

The new poll may provide Obama some solace ...

... on whether he is viewed as "too arrogant or presumptuous" to be president -- another theme the McCain camp has been pushing. Asked that question, 35% said yes, 59% said no.

Those numbers aren't much different from the results when voters were asked if they viewed McCain as "too hot-tempered" to be president -- 30% said yes, 56% no.

The new poll also found that the "passion gap" still benefits Obama, but not nearly as much as it did two months ago, largely because of a pronounced shift in attitude among McCain's backers.

In June, 45% of his supporters described themselves as enthusiastic about him (with just 14% labeling themselves "very" enthusiastic). In the new survey, conducted from Friday through Monday, 61% of McCain's supporters declare their enthusiasm for him -- and 27% of them embrace the "very enthusiastic" tag.

For Obama, the numbers are virtually unchanged. In the new poll, 78% of his backers are enthusiastic about him (with 46% in the "very" enthusiastic camp; in June, the overall enthusiastic number was 81% (with 47% of those "very" enthusiastic).

-- Don Frederick

Photo credit: Associated Press

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