The Korean War was much to blame for Truman's problem; the Iraq war for Bush's. Despite reduced violence in Iraq, 63 percent of Americans continue to say that given its costs vs. benefits the war was not worth fighting. And fewer than half, 43 percent, are persuaded the United States is making significant progress restoring civil order there.
These views, too, pose a challenge to McCain, as a supporter of the war in Iraq. While views on the war are highly polarized politically, among independents only a third say it was worth fighting, and just 40 percent see significant progress on civil order.
Currently McCain's supported by more than seven in 10 Americans who say the war's worth fighting – but among those who say it was not worth fighting, 66 percent prefer Clinton, and 70 percent prefer Obama.
PARTY – An important element for Obama and Clinton alike is a surge in Democratic partisanship: Forty percent of Americans now identify themselves as Democrats, the most since an ABC/Post poll in early 1997, and before that in August 1992, in advance of George H.W. Bush's defeat by Bill Clinton.
Economic discontent, dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq and enthusiasm about the Democratic race all are factors; voter turnout has been up in most Democratic primaries this year, flat in most Republican contests. In all, 29 million adults have voted in Democratic caucuses and primaries, vs. 17 million on the Republican side.
The open question is whether Democrats can sustain this surge in allegiance beyond their attention-grabbing primaries, or whether their new adherents revert to a more neutral stance as independents. (It's independents who are down in this poll, with Republican self-identification roughly steady, at 28 percent.)
In a McCain-Obama match-up, each wins about 80 percent of his own party's adherents – better for Obama, given the current preponderance of Democrats. Defectors are about equal in share: 14 percent of Democrats for McCain, 16 percent of Republicans for Obama.
Clinton loses as many Democrats as Obama, but draws fewer Republicans, 9 percent; McCain wins 87 percent of Republicans against her, vs. his 80 percent vs. Obama. Independents – again, the key swing group – favor Obama by 10 points, Clinton by 7.
IDEOLOGY – While McCain, as noted, has trouble with conservatives, Obama boasts a vast 60-point lead among liberals, Clinton, 50 points. Among moderates Obama leads by 21 points, Clinton by a narrower 9 points.
Leads among moderates are crucial to the Democrats, since conservatives substantially outnumber liberals, by 30 percent to 19 percent in this poll.
Another measure on ideology underscores McCain's challenges. As noted, testing just the two delegate leaders, 56 percent say Obama's views on issues are "just about right" on the ideological spectrum, while many fewer, 41 percent, say the same about McCain. Democrats are more apt to approve of Obama ideologically (77 percent) than Republicans of McCain (61 percent).
Among swing independents, a majority rates Obama's views as about right, but only 36 percent say that about McCain. Instead 40 percent of independents say McCain's views are too conservative, more than the 29 percent who call Obama too liberal.
Moreover, a third of all conservatives, and 46 percent of "very" conservative adults, say McCain's too liberal. He needs to move right and center at once.