Showdown 2008: Clinton vs. McCain


March 7, 2006 — -- More than two years out, most Americans have favorable views of the two most talked about potential 2008 presidential candidates, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. But their support profiles are vastly different: Clinton, much stronger in her base; McCain, far more appealing beyond his.

Fifty-two percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll have a favorable opinion of Clinton, compared with 59 percent for McCain. McCain's popularity is at once broader across partisan lines and less divisive in terms of intensity of sentiment. Yet the flip side is that he's considerably weaker among Republicans than Clinton is among Democrats.

Overall 46 percent view Clinton unfavorably, compared with 29 percent for McCain (more have no opinion of McCain). More ominously for Clinton, 33 percent have a "strongly" unfavorable impression of her, compared with just 11 percent for McCain.

Clinton -- Positive views of Clinton are highest by far in her own political party. Eight in 10 Democrats view her favorably, compared with only two in 10 Republicans. And negative sentiment is extraordinarily intense across the aisle: Almost three-quarters of conservative Republicans have strongly negative feelings toward her -- likely the long hangover from her "vast right-wing conspiracy" complaint.

Fewer than half of liberal Democrats have a strongly favorable opinion of Clinton.

But positive changes for Clinton, compared with June 2003, those with "no opinion" are down by six points, her favorable rating is up by eight points, and her "strongly" favorable rating us up by 12. Her strong unfavorables, though, didn't budge.

McCain -- In stark contrast to Clinton, majorities across political and ideological groups see McCain favorably. Only seven points separate Democrats' and Republicans' favorable opinions, 57 percent and 64 percent. And remarkably, McCain is viewed favorably by six in 10 liberal Democrats as well as seven in 10 conservative Republicans.

These views present challenges for both candidates. Clinton has 16 points more favorability within her own party than McCain has within his; that makes a primary campaign look easier for her. But McCain has more cross-party appeal, he edges out Clinton in favorable ratings among independents by six points and his "strongly" unfavorable ratings among independents are a third of Clinton's. All those would help in a general election campaign -- if he got there.

A challenge for Clinton is that those strong disapprovers might be especially motivated to vote against her. Another challenge is that, because nearly everyone already has an opinion of her, winning more support means convincing people who currently are inclined against her. More Americans, 12 percent, still have no opinion of McCain; he's got 971 days to make the sale. But so does she.

This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone March 2-5, 2006, among a random national sample of 1,000 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

For complete results, click here.

ABC News polls can be found by clicking here.