Poll: McCain has security edge

John McCain approaches his first debate with Barack Obama with an advantage among registered voters on the issues of national security and foreign policy, the subjects of their showdown Friday, according to a new Ipsos-McClatchy poll.

McCain is at a disadvantage, however, on the issues of jobs and the economy, where Obama is viewed as stronger. With the country's financial system in crisis, those concerns are dominating people's minds by a large margin, the poll found.

Yet neither candidate had an advantage on the crisis in the mortgage and financial system; respondents split almost evenly over who was best suited to manage the mess. McCain was judged “qualified” to resolve the crisis by 46 percent of registered voters and Obama by 45 percent.

The net effect: The two men remain neck and neck for the third week in a row. Obama was supported by 44 percent of registered voters, McCain by 43 percent. The poll of registered voters had an error margin of 3.2 percentage points. It was taken from Thursday through Monday.

Independent candidate Ralph Nader and Libertarian candidate Bob Barr each were supported by 2 percent. Another 5 percent supported none of the four, and 4 percent said they didn't know whom they supported.

“Republicans have historically done better on the issues of national security and foreign policy,” said Clifford Young, a senior vice president at Ipsos Public Affairs, which conducted the poll of 923 registered voters nationwide.

“But the key issue, the 1,000-pound gorilla in the room, is the economy. And Obama is trending better on that.”

Overall, 36 percent of those surveyed ranked jobs and the economy their top concern, followed by 16 percent saying national security, 12 percent leadership, 9 percent change, 8 percent health care, 8 percent family values, 5 percent foreign policy and 2 percent taxes.

Respondents preferred McCain over Obama on national security by 60 percent to 32 percent. They preferred McCain over Obama on foreign policy by 53 percent to 39 percent, and they give McCain the nod on leadership by 50 percent to 42 percent.

They said their top issue now is jobs and the economy, however, and they preferred Obama over McCain to handle that by 48 percent to 40 percent.