POLL: Shifting Preferences Shake GOP Race; Dem. Contest is Stable, Bush Stays Low

But he's only even with McCain in terms of experience; there's virtually a four-way tie among these four top candidates on who's the most honest and trustworthy, and all five top candidates, also including Thompson, are in the mix on who best represents the core values of the Republican Party.

On issues, Giuliani leads in trust to handle terrorism, a cornerstone of his campaign, and has an advantage on economic issues, potentially useful as this concern grows. But he and McCain are about even in trust to handle Iraq and immigration, and he, Romney and Huckabee, are about matched on "social issues, such as abortion and gay civil unions."

DEMOCRATS: This poll finds more clear-cut preferences on the Democratic side, where the contest looks very much now as it has since September. Clinton's overall lead is buttressed by very large advantages as the best experienced candidate, the strongest leader and the most electable in a general election. She also has a significant lead on empathy, wider than when that attribute was last tested in June.

Clinton has a much narrower eight-point advantage on honesty and trustworthiness, long a weaker suit for her. And Obama runs evenly with her in one last attribute, being the "most inspiring" candidate.

On issues, again, Clinton prevails with very large leads in trust to handle health care, the economy, Iraq and terrorism alike.

While Clinton leads among both sexes, she again has a bigger advantage among women than men. Indeed, she leads in this poll across demographic groups, including a 13-point advantage among African-Americans, who've been oversampled in ABC/Post polls all year for more reliable analysis.

ISSUES: There is, again, a significant difference between leaned Democrats and leaned Republicans when it comes to the top issues in their vote; Democrats converge around three issues -- the economy, Iraq and health care -- while Republicans bring in terrorism and immigration as well.

But among both groups there's been a drop in mentions of Iraq as the top issue, and increases in concern about the economy, a looming wildcard in the 2008 election.

METHODOLOGY: This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Dec. 6-9, 2007, among a random national sample of 1,136 adults, including an oversample of African-Americans for a total of 205 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 610 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, five points for the sample of 409 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 4.5 points for the sample of 429 likely Democratic primary voters and 5.5 points for the sample of 293 likely Republican primary voters. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

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