With three weeks to go for election day, American voters have for the first time given a 'clear edge' to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama for providing 'strong leadership', allowing him to take a 10 per cent lead over his Republican rival John McCain.
Coverage: US Elections 2008
In the latest opinion poll, Obama, perceived winner of the two presidential debates, is leading 53 per cent to 43 per cent among likely voters.
And for the first time in the general-election campaign, voters gave the Democrat a clear edge on tax policy and providing strong leadership, said the new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
McCain has made little headway in his attempts to convince voters that Obama is 'too risky' or 'too liberal'.
Rather, recent strategic shifts may have hurt the Republican nominee, who now has higher negative ratings than his rival and is seen as mostly attacking his opponent rather than addressing the issues that voters care about.
'Even McCain's supporters are now less enthusiastic about his candidacy, returning to levels not seen since before the Republican National Convention,' the Post reported on Monday.
Conversely, Obama's pitch to the middle class on taxes is beginning to sink in, it said, noting that nearly as many Americans said they think their taxes would go up under a McCain administration as under an Obama presidency, and more see their burdens easing with the Democrat in the White House.
The poll was conducted after the second Obama-McCain debate on October 8, which most voters said did not sway their opinions much. Still, voters' impressions of Obama are up, and views of McCain have slipped.
Obama is being viewed favourably by 64 per cent voters, up six percentage points from early September. About a third of voters have a better opinion of 47-year-old Illinois senator because of his debate performances, while eight per cent have a lower opinion of him.
By contrast, more than a quarter said they think worse of 71-year-old McCain as a result of the debates, more than double the proportion saying their opinion had improved.
McCain's overall rating has also dipped seven points, to 52 per cent, over the past month, the Post said.
Adding to his woes is that 90 per cent of the Americans believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction, the worst reflection since 1973 with only 23 per cent giving a favourable rating for the Republican incumbent President George W Bush.
The continuing carnage on Wall Street has put the focus back on the economy with 53 per cent saying that economy and jobs are the most important issue in a pick for the President, and in this category Senator Obama walks away by a two to one margin -- 62 per cent to 33 per cent.
With the final debate set for Wednesday at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, McCain faces a narrowing window in which to reverse course, it said.
Among the reasons McCain's path to victory seems steeper is that the percentage of 'movable' voters continues to shrink. Thirteen per cent of all voters are now either undecided or may change their mind before the November four election.