POLL: Clinton Fends Off Obama in N.H. With More Committed Support

Hillary Clinton is holding off Barack Obama in New Hampshire with a single-digit but seemingly solid lead, scoring more committed and enthusiastic support, higher trust to handle pressing issues and broad margins on leadership, experience and electability.

Obama is challenging Clinton in Iowa, and this ABC News/Washington Post poll puts him potentially within striking distance in New Hampshire as well. But some of the underlying currents boosting Obama in Iowa are less powerful here, with Clinton's support more settled.

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Among likely voters in the Democratic primary, Clinton has 35 percent support, Obama 29 percent, John Edwards 17 percent and Bill Richardson 10 percent, with others in the low single digits. That compares to a 30-26 percent Obama-Clinton race in Iowa in an ABC/Post poll there two weeks ago.

Clinton's lead in New Hampshire inches up in lower-turnout scenarios, suggesting her support is more reliable. Moreover, among those who've definitely decided on their candidate, she leads Obama by a wide 43-28 percent; and among the most enthusiastic likely voters she leads him by 45-24 percent. There's no such difference in Iowa.

Looking at the flipside, changeability, among the one in four likely voters who say there's a good chance they may change their minds, 23 percent currently support Clinton, 36 percent Obama. That suggests he's more vulnerable to reconsideration.

At the same time Obama is taking full advantage of Clinton's weaknesses. A perceived lack of forthrightness continues to dog her; 41 percent in New Hampshire say Clinton's not willing enough to say what she really thinks, twice as many as say that about her chief competitors. And among those people, hardly any -- just 7 percent -- support her, while 41 percent support Obama.

Additionally, a majority of likely voters in the state seek "a new direction and new ideas" -- a page from Obama's playbook -- rather than strength and experience. And "new direction" voters favor Obama over Clinton by 44 percent to 19 percent. Those who place more value on strength and experience, by contrast, are with Clinton by nearly 6-1.

Obama's lead among "new direction" voters is similar to what it is in the same group in Iowa (and that group is about the same size). But Clinton's advantage among "strength and experience" voters is much bigger in New Hampshire; that theme's stronger resonance in the Granite State is key to her lead.

For all this, a total of 51 percent of Democratic likely voters in New Hampshire say they still might change their minds -- fewer than the 61 percent who say so in the Republican race, but still indicating substantial room to move.

Additionally, 27 percent say they may take the results of the Iowa caucuses, five days before the New Hampshire primary, into account, although fewer than half of them say they'll give it much weight.

GROUPS -- Obama's running competitively with Clinton among men, younger likely voters and political independents; she owes her advantage to women (particularly single women), older voters (particularly senior citizens) and mainline Democrats.

Clinton's better standing among Democrats (41 percent support, and a 15-point lead over Obama) as opposed to independents (27 percent, to Obama's 31) is notable. Again, there's no such difference in Iowa, a much lower-turnout event. In New Hampshire, Obama's helped by the fact that an unusually large number of independents participate (46 percent in this poll are registered independents, about their share in the 2004 primary). But in other states, where primary voting is limited to party registrants, Clinton could gain.

To address weaknesses among population groups, Clinton may look at married men, among whom she has just 24 percent support; the most highly educated voters, 23 percent; and, as noted, younger adults. She's supported by 27 percent of likely voters under age 40, compared with 44 percent of those 65 and older. The patterns are similar in national ABC/Post polling.

Clinton's advantage among women also shows up in the 19 percent of likely voters who say the fact that she'd be the first woman president makes them more likely to support her. Women are twice as likely as men to say so, 24 percent vs. 12 percent, rising to 32 percent of single women (which includes divorced and widowed women as well as those never married). It's also higher among Democrats vs. independents, among older people and among liberals vs. moderates.

ATTRIBUTES -- In terms of attributes, Obama easily trumps Clinton as the candidate who's the "most inspiring," leads her on honesty and trustworthiness (a Clinton weakness nationally and in Iowa as well) and challenges her on empathy. The two run evenly on the question of who would do most to bring needed change to Washington.

But, as noted, Clinton comes back very strongly on her other attributes -- electability, experience (on which Obama is quite weak) and strong leadership. And she leads Obama by 17 points as the candidate who's campaigned hardest in New Hampshire, a plus in a state where candidates are expected early and often.

ISSUES -- Building on her ratings for experience and leadership, Clinton leads in New Hampshire on six of seven issues tested in this poll, with an especially large advantage on one of the top concerns to likely Democratic voters, health care.

Obama, notably, leads on none of these.

Unlike Republican voters, there is a clear emphasis among Democrats on top issues: About half cite both health care and the war in Iraq as the two most important issues in their vote, with the economy and education following -- quite similar to views in Iowa. Among Democrats nationally the same items come up, with some different emphasis.

These are in sharp contrast to likely Republican voters in New Hampshire, who, as in Iowa and nationally, disperse among a wider range of issues.

CONTACT and TURNOUT -- Likely Democratic voters are more engaged than their Republican counterparts -- 12 points more likely to be very enthusiastic about their choice of a candidate, twice as likely to have attended a campaign event (35 percent vs. 17 percent) and 20 points more apt to have received a phone call from a campaign (74 percent vs. 54 percent).

Given the differences among groups in this poll, turnout of course is essential. This survey anticipates turnout in the Democratic primary by 31 percent of the state's adult population, and by 27 percent in the Republican contest. Tighter turnout scenarios make no difference in the Republican contest (in which Mitt Romney has a broad lead), but indicate a slightly larger Clinton lead (albeit within sampling error) on the Democratic side.

Likely voter estimates can be one source of differences in polls, as can sample sizes; another potential factor is the level of so-called "undecided" voters, in reality a function of polling technique rather than true indecision.

ABC/Post polls have fewer undecideds than most others, given the context of the question -- asking whom likely voters would support if the election were today. This survey finds 3 percent undecided, compared with an average of 12 percent in nine other publicly released polls in New Hampshire in the past month.

METHODOLOGY -- This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Nov. 29-Dec. 3, 2007, among a random sample of 592 New Hampshire adults likely to vote in the 2008 Democratic primary. The results have a four-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

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