McCain Rejection Rate Spikes; Clinton, Giuliani Still Lead

Voter rejection of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the candidate who's most staunchly backed the Iraq War, has spiked in the last year, to the point where nearly half of Americans -- including a quarter of Republicans -- say they definitely would not support him for president.

That marks a sharp change. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll in May 2006, 28 percent said they wouldn't consider supporting McCain if he were to win his party's nomination. Today that's risen to 47 percent.

It's worse still for former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney; a majority of Americans, 54 percent, say they definitely wouldn't vote for him, including a third of Republicans -- a particularly broad level of rejection within his own party.

Indeed McCain and Romney's negatives on this measure match or exceed those of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., whose polarized political profile has been well documented. Forty-five percent of adults say they definitely wouldn't vote for her, about the same as last May.

Clinton sustains less rejection within her own party than either McCain or Romney in theirs -- 15 percent of Democrats say they wouldn't support her. And, conversely, she's also got the highest "definite" support. Twenty-seven percent say she's got their vote nailed down, more than say so about any of her leading rivals, Democratic or Republican.

Rounding out the top contenders, 40 percent say they definitely wouldn't vote for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and 35 or 36 percent flatly reject former Sen. John Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

In the plus column, 17 to 20 percent say they'd definitely back Obama, Edwards or Giuliani; fewer are definitely for McCain (12 percent) or Romney (7 percent).

Independents May Hold Key to Oval Office

Since much of this is based in partisanship, these views may be at least as instructive among independents alone, on the theory that party adherents are likely ultimately to line up behind their party's nominee.

That result shifts the picture. Fifty-one percent of independents say they definitely would not support Clinton for president, more than say so about any other candidate save Romney (53 percent).

By contrast, Obama is ruled out by just 29 percent of independents, Giuliani by 35 percent, Edwards by 39 percent and McCain by 41 percent.

McCain's War

In an indication that his position on the war in Iraq isn't helping McCain, this poll finds a striking change in the number of "strong" war opponents who reject his candidacy.

Among people who both feel strongly that the war was not worth fighting and who strongly disapprove of how Bush is handling it (nearly half of all adults), 63 percent say they definitely would not support McCain for president. Among this same group in May 2006, by contrast, far fewer -- 34 percent -- rejected McCain.

McCain meanwhile has not improved his standing among people who strongly approve of the war -- and there are many fewer of them.

Getting to Know You

These and other election views can change as the campaigns evolve and the public becomes more familiar with the candidates.

Clinton still holds a substantial lead in familiarity, but even in her own party, among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, just a narrow majority, 52 percent, say they know at least a good amount about her positions.

That falls to 28 percent familiarity with Edwards, and 25 percent with Obama.

It's much the same on the Republican side. Fewer than half of leaned Republicans feel they know a good deal about any of the leading candidates' positions -- 44 percent say so about McCain, 38 percent about Giuliani and just 14 percent in Romney's case.

That's not entirely for lack of interest. It remains high, with 66 percent of Americans overall saying they're following the campaign at least somewhat closely. That's about the same as in February, much higher than in the early stages of the 2000 or 2004 contests.

Support Remains Stable

In terms of candidate standings, this poll finds no significant change among Democrats, regardless of heavy coverage of Obama's fundraising prowess; and among Republicans a decline in Giuliani's support from its February level, with McCain stable despite his own fundraising difficulties.

Giuliani is supported by 33 percent of leaned Republicans in this survey, down from 44 percent in February and back to where he was in January. Part (but not all) of that is because of the inclusion of possible candidate Fred Thompson, a former senator and current television actor; removing Thompson from the equation, Giuliani has 37 percent support.

With Thompson included, McCain gets 21 percent support, the same as in February; Romney, 9 percent; Thompson, 9 percent; and Newt Gingrich (who, like Thompson, has not announced his candidacy) 6 percent, down from 15 percent. Others are in the lower single digits.

For the Democrats, support levels are very similar in this poll to what they were in February. Thirty-seven percent support among leaned Democrats for Clinton, 20 percent for Obama, 17 percent for Al Gore (not an announced candidate) and 14 percent for Edwards, with others in single digits.

With Gore excluded, it's 41 percent for Clinton, 25 percent for Obama and 17 percent for Edwards, again very similar to the last ABC/Post poll.

While there's been speculation that Clinton is vulnerable among Democrats most strongly opposed to the Iraq War -- she voted to authorize the use of force -- that doesn't seem to be borne out.

Her support levels are essentially the same among leaned Democrats who strongly disapprove of the war and of the way Bush is handling it. (Of course, those strong war disapprovers account for most leaned Democrats, 76 percent.)

Partisans Mostly Satisfied with Options

Overall, Democrats remain more satisfied than Republicans with their options -- 80 percent of leaned Democrats describe themselves as satisfied with their choice of candidates, compared with 65 percent of Republicans.

And Clinton, the Democratic leader, has 59 percent "strong" support in her party, compared with 45 percent "strong" support among leaned Republicans for Giuliani.

The Democrats may also take some hope from recent trends in political affiliation.

As reported in an April 16 analysis of other results of this poll, self-identified partisanship has shifted from an even split between Democrats and Republicans in 2003 to a four-point Democratic edge on average from 2004-2006, widening to a 10-point Democratic advantage so far this year.

Nonetheless, plenty of Republicans have overcome that kind of gap to win the presidency in past years.

Edwards Cancer Announcement

This poll also tested issues involving cancer and the candidates, and finds some possible impact, but not much.

Nine percent of Americans say they'd be less likely to support a candidate who'd been treated for cancer but is now in remission. That's much less than the possible impact, in earlier polling, of being older than 72, a Mormon, a smoker or twice divorced. (Thompson has been diagnosed with "indolent lymphoma" and Giuliani has been treated for prostate cancer.)

Among leaned Democrats, fewer still report any impact on their vote from the fact that John Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, has had a recurrence of cancer; 94 percent say it makes no difference in their vote choice. Three-quarters of leaned Democrats say Edwards is doing the right thing by continuing his campaign; 17 percent instead say he should suspend or end his race for the presidency.

Primary Concerns

Finally, there's no broad concern -- and even a bit more hope -- about what apparently will be a highly compressed nominating season, with a large number of states holding their presidential primaries earlier in the year than ever before.

Sixty-three percent of Americans think a compressed season won't make much difference in the quality of the nominating system. And while 14 percent think it'll make it worse, slightly more, 20 percent, think it'll make the system better.

This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone April 12-15, 2007, among a random national sample of 1,141 adults, including an oversample of African-Americans. The results from the full survey have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

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