On Tuesday, at the eighth presidential debate among Democrats, front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton came under withering fire from her top rivals, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards. But the attacks didn't appear to do much damage, with her lead for the party's nomination unchanged, according to the latest NEWSWEEK poll. Almost exactly a year before election day, Clinton is also the favorite to win the White House--if only by a very small margin.
The New York senator gets 44 percent of the overall Democratic vote, compared to 24 percent for Obama (down a point since NEWSWEEK's August poll) and 12 percent for Edwards (down two points). She is the first choice of 45 percent of self-identified Democrats (compared with 39 percent of Democratic "leaners"). She also trounces Obama among Democratic female voters (48 to 19 percent) and enjoys a marginal lead among male Democratic voters (38 to 32 percent). Obama runs better among younger Democratic voters and minorities.
Still, Obama and Edwards both run significantly stronger than Clinton among independents. For example, in a head-to-head matchup against Republican contender Fred Thompson (who commands just 15 percent of GOP support), Clinton attracts 47 percent of the independent vote. Both Obama (56 percent) and Edwards (57 percent) draw a majority of the independent vote against the retired senator and "Law & Order" star.
On the other side of the aisle, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani has also held his lead over his field of competitors with 30 percent of the Republican vote. And Thompson has slipped from a high point of 22 percent support in August to 15 percent today--although he remains ahead of both Sen. John McCain (14 percent) and Mitt Romney (12 percent). The only Republican to have gained ground since August is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (at 7 percent, up from 2 percent). But, also like Clinton, Giuliani's support is strongest among registered party voters (at 31 percent), before it softens among voters who "lean" Republican (23 percent.)
When you pit the two parties against each other, Giuliani gives the three Democratic leaders a close race. He trails Clinton by four points (49 to 45 percent) and Edwards and Obama by three points (48 to 45 percent in each instance). Still, the unpopularity of President George W. Bush will be a significant obstacle for any Republican nominee to overcome. A 58 percent majority of all voters and two-thirds (66 percent) of independents say they have an unfavorable view of Bush.
But the poll results do somewhat call into question the Democratic frontrunner's electability come next November. Clinton's support tops out at 49 percent in trial heats against Giuliani, Thompson and Romney. Her four-point margin (49 percent to 45 percent) over Thompson and Romney is significantly less than Edwards's and Obama's performance in those head-to-heads. Obama and Edwards both lead Romney by 53 to 37 percent. Edwards leads Thompson 53 to 39 percent; Obama leads him 52 to 39 percent.
If billionaire New York mayor Michael Bloomberg were to run as an independent, he'd do more to help the Democrats, according to the poll. In a three-way race against Clinton and Giuliani, Clinton leads with 44 percent to Giuliani's 38 percent and Bloomberg's 11 percent.
Evangelical Republican voters, meanwhile, do not appear to be gravitating toward one candidate in particular. Their support is divided among Giuliani (23 percent), McCain (17 percent), Thompson (15 percent), Huckabee (10 percent), and, lastly, Romney, who is Mormon (9 percent). Among Republicans who do not identify themselves as Evangelical Protestant, 34 percent are backing Giuliani, putting him well ahead of Thompson (15 percent) and Romney (14 percent).
Interestingly, this is shaping up to be an election where there is no single overriding issue that concerns voters. The economy and jobs actually come before the war in Iraq (22 to 19 percent), followed by health care (17 percent) and terrorism and national security (15 percent). Voters today are split on whether the situation is worsening in Iraq (29 percent) or improving (26 percent.) In August, 41 percent held the negative opinion; 16 percent thought the situation was improving.
This poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from Oct. 31 to Nov. 1. Telephone interviews were conducted with 1,002 registered voters. Registered voters were screened from a random-digit-dial (RDD) telephone sample of national adults. Registration status is self-reported. 77 percent of adults in the sample reported being registered. Results are weighted so that the sample demographics match Census Current Population Survey parameters for gender, age, education, race, region and population density. The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points for results based on 1,002 registered voters. Results based on smaller subgroups are subject to larger margins of sampling error.
SAMPLE SIZE/MARGIN OF ERROR FOR REGISTERED VOTERS SUBGROUPS:
337 Republicans (plus or minus 7)
315 Democrats (plus or minus 7)
288 Independents (plus or minus 8)
430 Republicans/Republican leaners (plus or minus 6)
433 Democrats/Democratic leaners (plus or minus 6)
93 Republican leaners (plus or minus 13)
118 Democratic leaners (plus or minus 12)
501 Red states (plus or minus 6) (voted Bush in 2004)
501 Blue states (plus or minus 6) (voted Kerry in 2004)
In addition to sampling error, the practical difficulties of conducting surveys can also introduce error or bias to poll results.