POLL: A Year Before '08 Election, Public's Theme Is Discontent

Nonetheless, preferences in this contest, as in the Democratic race, are consistent across registered and likely voter groups.

In terms of personal attributes, Giuliani, like Clinton in her race, holds broad advantages on electability and strength. But more fault lines appear on others: He runs only evenly with McCain, with Thompson and Romney close behind, as the candidate who "best reflects the core values of the Republican Party." Giuliani and McCain likewise are even in trust to handle the situation in Iraq. They're about even on honesty and trustworthiness, and -- another Giuliani vulnerability -- in being "closest to you on the issues."

Year Out

Americans favor the Democrats over the Republicans in trust to handle five of six individual issues tested in this poll, including the top election issues -- health care, by a wide 54 to 29 percent margin; the situation in Iraq, by 50-34 percent; and the economy, by 50-35 percent.

The Democrats have smaller leads on taxes and immigration, and run evenly with the Republicans in trust to handle terrorism, Bush's cornerstone issue.

Still, while those results bode well for the Democrats a year out, presidential elections ultimately come down to a comparative contest between the two nominees. There, preferences can differ -- particularly given the motivation of strong sentiment.

In Clinton's case, while 50 percent of Americans view her favorably overall, 46 percent view her unfavorably -- including 35 percent "strongly" unfavorably. Giuliani's strongly unfavorable rating, the next highest of any candidate, is a dozen points lower.

Expressed another way, Clinton's most favorable groups are strong Democrats (59 percent rate her strongly favorably) and African-Americans (52 percent). But antipathy toward her jumps higher in her most strongly unfavorable groups -- conservative Republicans (77 percent strongly unfavorable), strong Republicans (73 percent) and Republican men (71 percent).

The result is that, despite the Democratic advantage on issues, a trial heat between Clinton and Giuliani is very close: Fifty percent of Americans prefer Clinton, 46 percent Giuliani. (That compares with 51-43 percent a month ago; in this poll slightly more, 29 percent, identify themselves as Republicans, vs. a 2007 average of 25 percent.) Pitting Clinton against McCain produces a 52-43 percent contest, while her lead grows against either Thompson (56-40 percent) or Romney (57-39 percent).

What advantage Clinton holds is chiefly among women, who are more likely than men to be Democrats; against Giuliani, for example, she's supported by 56 percent of women, while he's preferred by 51 percent of men.

Generally the key swing group in presidential politics is independents -- a group whose allegiance is most easily moved, and one that's big enough to affect the outcome. And currently 47 percent of independents support Clinton, 46 percent for Giuliani -- essentially a tie, and as such, perhaps, an indication of the political drama to come.


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