Building on her dual image of leadership and electability, Hillary Clinton has advanced to her most powerful advantage on the Democratic nomination campaign, with resounding leads on key issues and personal attributes, alike.
Clinton holds vast margins over her top rivals in trust to handle issues from health care, to the economy, to the war in Iraq. On personal attributes, 50 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say she best represents "the core values of the Democratic Party," again placing her far ahead of her main competitors.
These advantages help Clinton overcome her relative vulnerability on two attributes — inspiration and trustworthiness — propelling her to her biggest lead of the campaign. She has 53 percent support in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, up 12 points from early last month, vs. 20 percent for Barack Obama (down seven points to his lowest of the year), and a stable 13 percent for John Edwards.
This is the first news poll testing the full field of Democratic candidates, in which Clinton's support has exceeded 50 percent. Her numbers are consistent with her latest fundraising success: She pulled in $27 million in the third quarter of the year, beating Obama's $20 million take. He out-raised her in the second quarter.
GOP — On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani leads his competitors on the issues as well, but by smaller margins than Clinton, in her race. Coincidentally, like Clinton, Giuliani's also relatively vulnerable in his rating for honesty and trustworthiness.
But, Giuliani's biggest threat is his shakiness in the Republican base. Just 23 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say he best represents their party's core values &3151; no more than say so about either John McCain or Fred Thompson. That's as big a risk for him as it is an advantage for Clinton in her race, since it is motivated, core party voters, who customarily turn out for primary elections.
Giuliani, nonetheless, has regained his advantage, with 34 percent support, back to his spring and mid-summer level after a slip in early September, as Thompson formally joined the race. Thompson's support is stable, at 17 percent; McCain's slipped to 12 percent, a new low for him. Mitt Romney is stable at 11 percent, with other Republicans in the single digits. One, Mike Huckabee, has inched ahead to eight percent support.
INTEREST — The standings are almost identical among registered voters, as well as among those who are paying close attention to the contest. And interest remains high: 69 percent of Americans say they're following the race closely, about where it's been all year. That's 15 points higher than close attention at this time in the 2004 contest, and eight points more than it was at about this time in the 2000 campaign.
There's good reason for the focus; this is the first election since 1928 in which neither the sitting president nor the sitting vice president has sought their party's nomination.
THE DEMOCRATS — Six in 10 Democrats pick Clinton as the "strongest leader" among their top candidates, her single best attribute. (She's done equally well on having the "best experience," not retested in this survey.) Clinton's gained 11 points on leadership since June, while Obama's lost six.
It matters: Among Democrats looking mainly for strong and experience in a candidate — as opposed to a "new direction and new ideas" — 62 percent favor Clinton, while only nine percent in this group support Obama.
As the insurgent, Obama does far better — 31 percent support — among Democrats mainly looking for a candidate who offers a new direction. His problem is that Clinton now leads in this group as well, a turnaround from June.
Clinton's also had a 14-point gain since June in another attribute, the notion that she's best able to win the general election in November. Fifty-seven percent now see her as most electable, a perception possibly fueled by her steady campaign performance.
Among her relative weaknesses, substantially fewer Democrats see Clinton as the most "inspiring" candidate; Obama challenges her on this quality, 37 percent to 41 percent. And in her softest rating, 35 percent see Clinton as the most honest and trustworthy of the Democratic candidates; nonetheless, she also has gained some ground on this score since June.
On issues, as opposed to personal attributes, most of Clinton's advantages are enormous — notably on health care, on which she's issued a detailed proposal for full coverage. Two-thirds of Democrats prefer her approach on health care, vs. just 14 or 15 percent for Edwards or Obama.
In another measure of strength, 61 percent of Clinton's supporters say they're "strongly" behind her (as do 52 percent of Obama's). That's a notable accomplishment by Clinton, since "strong" support can dissipate as a candidate's overall support increases.
MONEY MONEY MONEY — Nor does Clinton appear to have been damaged by her financial support from now-indicted Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu. A quarter of leaned Democrats think Clinton's campaign engaged in improper fundraising; however, more, 44 percent, think most of the presidential campaigns do the same thing.
And notably, Clinton's support is so strong in her party that, even among those who think her campaign has engaged in improper fundraising, 43 percent support her for the nomination anyway — double Obama's support in this group. (Among those who don't see impropriety, more, 59 percent, support Clinton.)
WOMEN and BLACKS — While Clinton would make history as the first female nominee, her support's very strong among Democratic men (48 percent) as well as women (57 percent); indeed, her gain in this poll came predominantly among men.
Further, while 29 percent of Democrats describe themselves as feminists, Clinton does no better in this group (50 percent support) than among non-feminists (55 percent). And among Clinton's supporters, 72 percent say her sex is not a reason for their backing her; just 10 percent call it a major reason.
Clinton leads, as well, among African-Americans, a natural affinity group for Obama, since his father was black. Clinton, indeed, does as well in support for the nomination among African-Americans (51 percent) as she does among whites.
THE REPUBLICANS — Giuliani's support rests, to a large extent, on his performance as New York City's mayor on Sept. 11, 2001. His support peaks at 40 percent among Republicans who say he did an excellent job handling that crisis, and goes higher, to 48 percent, among those who think his 9/11 response shows how he'd perform as president.
It follows that 47 percent pick Giuliani as the "strongest leader" among the leading Republican candidates, more than double his closest competitor on this measure, McCain. And 45 percent pick him as best able to handle terrorism, 18 points ahead of McCain, despite McCain's military credentials.
Giuliani's biggest advantage on personal attributes is his reputation as being best able to win in November. He also leads on handling "social issues" when asked as a general concept — no individual, hot-button issues were specified. But, he's weaker on other items — "core Republican values," as noted, and also, honesty and trustworthiness. And McCain challenges him in trust to handle the war in Iraq.
Among key groups, Giuliani's support is much weaker among evangelical white Protestants — a reflection of his difficulties in the Republican base. Among Republicans who are not evangelical white Protestants, Giuliani has 38 percent support; they're the source of his gain in the past month. But, among evangelicals, who account for three in 10 leaned Republicans, his support is half that, and flat — 23 percent, essentially even with Thompson's 22 percent.
There are miles to go in both contests. But, as Clinton looks increasingly strong in her Democratic race, Giuliani, regardless of his consistent lead overall, remains far more vulnerable to challenge in his party's base.
METHODOLOGY — This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 27-30, 2007, among a random national sample of 1,114 adults, including an oversample of African-Americans, for a total of 212 black respondents (weighted back to their correct share of the national population).
The results have a three-point error margin for the full sample, four points for the sample of 592 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, and five points for the sample of 398 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.