More Americans believe Republican Presidential candidate John McCain has been unfairly negative to Democratic rival Barack Obama, a perception that could cost him in the November 4 election, a new poll suggests.
While nearly six in 10 Americans believe McCain has unfairly gone negative in his bid for the White House, only 39 per cent believe Obama has done so on his Republican rival, according to a new survey from CNN and the Opinion Research Corp.
That percentage is significantly higher than it was in September, when just 42 per cent thought McCain was running an overly negative campaign.
Obama also has a slight lead over McCain when it comes to who is considered a stronger leader, an advantage that McCain had long held over the younger African American and one that has been a chief talking point of his campaign.
In recent weeks, both campaigns have stepped up spending on negative television ads and launched attacks at each other's record. But comments from both McCain and running mate Sarah Palin questioning Obama's relationship with former 1960s radical William Ayers have drawn particular scrutiny.
The Republican campaign's recent suggestion Obama will seek to carry out "socialist" policies has also garnered negative reactions, CNN said.
Obama's image may also be benefiting from his huge financial advantage and the number of ads he is able to air compared with McCain. Obama can afford to produce positive and negative ads that could serve to soften his own image while hurting McCain's, Campaign Media Analysis Group's Evan Tracey, CNN's consultant on ad spending said.
"McCain can't afford the positive ads Obama can," Tracey said. "It's not likely McCain can raise his own positives with only a couple weeks left, but he can hope to raise Obama's negatives."
But the clear perception that McCain has run a more negative campaign than Obama may hurt the Republican presidential nominee's chances of a comeback as the end of the race draws near, CNN said.
In what could be more bad news for McCain, the new CNN/ORC poll indicated that 47 percent deem Obama the stronger leader while 44 percent give the nod to McCain. That's a striking departure from a similar poll in early September showing close to 60 percent viewed McCain as the candidate with better leadership qualities.
Obama is also seen as having a clearer plan for solving America's problems, and more voters say they would be more proud to call Obama president than McCain, 49 per cent to 37 per cent.
The Democrat is also viewed more favourably than his White House rival: 63 per cent have a positive view of Obama while 56 percent view McCain favourably.
But the Republican nominee continues to enjoy an advantage on the issue of Iraq and terrorism, and poll respondents believe by a 13-point margin that he has better experience to be president than Obama.
But on the most pressing issue, the nation's economic woes, Obama continues to hold nearly a 20-point advantage over McCain-a chief reason for the Democrat maintaining a 5-point lead on his rival overall. That 5-point lead, however, is down from an 8-point edge in a poll conducted October 3-5.
The new poll shows a significant enthusiasm gap between members of each party. Even after the selection of Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential candidate - a move that appeared to energise her party's base - only about a quarter of Republican voters say they are extremely enthusiastic about voting this year. That's about half the number of Democrats who say they feel that way.