POLL: Obama and Clinton Lead McCain; Change vs. Experience Is the Roadmap

MORE GROUPS – Obama and Clinton alike lead McCain among women, by roughly equal margins (19 and 16 points, respectively). But a McCain-Obama race is closer among men (44-47 percent) than a McCain-Clinton race (51-44 percent).

Perhaps surprisingly, McCain does less well among white voters against Obama, 47-45 percent, than against Clinton, 52-42 percent; the main difference is white men. And while 94 percent of African-Americans favor Obama against McCain, Clinton's share of black voters slips to 85 percent.

Religious belief also informs vote choices. Evangelical white Protestants, a core Republican group, favor McCain over Obama by 70-23 percent, and over Clinton by 68-29 percent. Americans who profess no religion, by contrast, back Obama by about an equal margin, 65-20 percent, and Clinton by 61-31.

While Obama and Clinton, as noted, lead among independents, McCain leads among another traditional swing voter group, white Catholics, by 53-40 percent vs. Obama and by 58-39 percent vs. Clinton. Since 1988 the candidate who's won white Catholics also has won the popular vote, except in 2000.

SECURITY and RACE – Another element, albeit not related to vote preference, is security. Fifty-nine percent of Americans express concern that someone might try to harm Obama, who'd be the first African-American candidate for president, if he's nominated. That's far more than the number who worry about McCain's security, 27 percent.

Concern about Obama crosses demographic lines, but peaks among blacks, at 83 percent (vs. 56 percent of whites), and among Democrats overall, at 68 percent (vs. 53 percent of Republicans and independents). Again, though, it's far higher in all groups than for McCain.

At the same time, Obama's race still rates as a slight net positive for him, as does Clinton's sex for her, compared with the net negative of McCain's age. Americans by a 23-point margin are less enthusiastic about McCain given the fact that he'd be the oldest first-term president; by an 8-point margin, they're more enthusiastic about Obama given that he'd be the first African-American president. Clinton's net positive on being the first woman president is about the same, 9 points.

Obama's race is a net positive for Democrats by 20 points and independents by a slight 5 points, negative for Republicans by 5. Clinton's sex is a net positive for Democrats and independents, negative for Republicans. McCain's age, by contrast, is a net negative across party lines, although to varying degrees.

ISSUES and ATTRIBUTES – This poll did additional testing of McCain and Obama, the frontrunners, on issues and personal attributes. McCain leads in trust to handle just two of six issues tested, vs. four for Obama. But that includes a large lead, 25 points, in trust to handle what can be a decisive issue in times of insecurity – terrorism.

Indeed a substantial number of Democrats, 41 percent, rate McCain as better qualified on terrorism, as do 52 percent of independents and 86 percent of Republicans.

McCain has a scant 5-point edge on Iraq; Obama, a 26-point lead on health care, and smaller but significant advantages on the economy – the top issue this year – immigration and ethics in government.

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