Washington, Thursday

Democrat Barack Obama has opened a seven-point lead over Republican rival John McCain with five days left in the race for the White House, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released today.

Obama leads McCain by 50 per cent to 43 per cent among likely voters in the three-day national tracking poll, building on his 5-point advantage yesterday. The telephone poll has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

bad news for McCain

It was the second consecutive day Obama’s lead has grown as the two-year presidential battle draws to a close. McCain is struggling to overtake Obama’s lead in every national opinion poll and in many battleground states.

"This is not good news for McCain. The race was tightening for a few days but now it is going back the other way," pollster John Zogby said.

Support for Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, hit or exceeded the 50 percent mark for the seventh time in the last 10 days. McCain’s support has not reached 46 per cent in more than three weeks of polling.

Obama held steady or expanded his edge among several crucial blocs of swing voters, leading by 19 points among independents, 10 points among women, nine points among Catholics and seven points among voters above the age 65.

Obama also moved ahead of McCain, an Arizona senator, by five points among men. McCain still leads by eight points among white voters but only earns the support of about 30 per cent of Hispanics, a fast-growing group that gave President George W Bush more than 40 per cent of their vote in 2004.

Obama conservatives

The poll also found Obama was doing a better job of reaching across ideological lines, earning the support of nearly 20 per cent of self-described conservatives. McCain wins about 10 per cent of liberals.

Both candidates campaigned in Florida yesterday as Obama simultaneously ran a 30-minute advertisement on three national television networks. He also appeared at a late-night rally in Orlando with former President Bill Clinton — their first joint campaign event. Independent Ralph Nader received 2 per cent in the national survey, and Libertarian Bob Barr was at 1 per cent. About two per cent of voters remain undecided.

The rolling tracking poll, taken Monday through yesterday, surveyed 1,202 likely voters in the presidential election.

In a tracking poll, the most recent day’s results are added, while the oldest day’s results are dropped to monitor changing momentum.

The US president is determined by who wins the Electoral College, which has 538 members apportioned by population in each state and the District of Columbia. Electoral votes are allotted on a winner-take-all basis in all but two states, which divide them by congressional district.

Separately, the two dueled over the economy today in the last stretch of a fierce fight for the White House, with McCain charging Obama would not do enough to rein in oil company profits.

McCain jumped on the record quarterly profits posted by Exxon Mobil, noting Obama had supported tax breaks for the oil industry in the 2005 energy bill and "when I’m president, we’re not going to let that happen."

"Senator Obama voted for billions in corporate giveaways to the oil companies. I voted against it," McCain told supporters in Defiance, Ohio, as he tried to jump-start a comeback in a race that appears to be tipping toward Obama.

"If I’m elected president, we’re going to stop sending $700 billion a year to pay for oil from countries that don’t like us very much," McCain said.