National security is the theme of tonight's proceedings at the Democratic National Convention; Joe Biden and Bill Clinton, the headline speakers. A fistful of relevant data points follows.
-Significant shortfalls for Obama. In our latest ABC/Post poll registered voters by 61-29 percent think McCain would make a better commander-in-chief of the military and by 62-31 percent think he has better knowledge of world affairs.
-Our July poll tested the candidates individually rather than comparatively; fewer than half of registered voters said Obama would be a good commander-in-chief (a 46-49 percent split). Meanwhile they saw McCain as a good CIC by a blowout 73-24 percent.
-McCain’s better trusted to handle terrorism, by 52-38 percent; to handle "an unexpected major crisis," by 52-41 percent; and to handle international affairs, by 51-43 percent.
-The two are even in trust to handle Iraq (46-46 percent). That’s arguably better than it should be for McCain given his support for, and Obama’s opposition to, the unpopular war.
-Americans say the Iraq war was not worth fighting by 63-35 percent. It’s been essentially steady at that level for two and a half years. A majority hasn’t said the war was worth fighting since September 2004. There are sharp partisan differences, with independents aligning more with Democrats.
-Americans divide by 50-46 percent on whether or not the United States is making significant progress restoring civil order in Iraq. That 50 percent is its highest since the capture of Saddam Hussein, albeit still just half.
-The economy is the top issue by far, cited by 43 percent of reg. voters; for 14 percent it’s Iraq, while 7 percent cite national security or terrorism. At the same time, in our July poll the Iraq war was called "extremely important" in vote choices by 42 percent, the campaign against terrorism by 37 percent, putting both among the upper-tier issues.
- In our latest poll (pre-selection), 13 percent of registered voters said having Biden on the ticket would make them more likely to support Obama, while about as many, 10 percent, said it would make them less likely to do so. Most by far – 75 percent – said it would make no difference in their choice.
-Nonetheless, in the never-hurts-to-try department: White Catholics (like Biden) are a true, key swing voter group – they’ve voted for the winner in each of the last eight elections. Obama trails McCain by 50-39 percent among white Catholics in our latest poll.
-Despite his long tenure in office, Biden’s not particularly well known. In a CNN poll after his pick, 38 percent expressed an overall favorable opinion of him, 25 percent unfavorable. Thirty-seven percent had no opinion.
-Bill Clinton is seen favorably by 55 percent of registered voters (comp. Obama 62, McCain 59, HRC 52), rebounding from the primary campaign, when his favorable rating dipped to 47 percent in April. His peak was 68 percent as he took office in January 1993.
-On job approval (different from personal favorability): Clinton averaged 57 percent approval over his career, in the mid-tier for postwar presidents, exactly matching Ronald Reagan and a point from LBJ. Kennedy (71 percent career average), Eisenhower (65 percent) and G.H.W. Bush (63 percent) did better.
-George W. Bush’s current approval rating is 30 percent; his career average, 51. Bush has been as low as 28 percent approval. Clinton's low was 43 percent, during the rocky start to his first term.
-Clinton left office in January 2001 with a 65 percent approval rating, the highest departing grade for any postwar president.