Despite her campaign's relentless attacks on Barack Obama's qualifications and electability, Hillary Clinton has lost a lot of ground with Democratic voters nationwide going into Tuesday's critical primary in Pennsylvania, a new NEWSWEEK poll shows.
The survey of 1,209 registered voters found that Obama now leads Clinton by nearly 20 points, or 54 percent to 35 percent, among registered Democrats and those who lean Democratic nationwide. The previous Newsweek poll, conducted in March after Clinton's big primary wins in Ohio and Texas, showed the two Democrats locked in a statistical tie (45 percent for Obama to 44 percent for Clinton). The new poll puts Obama ahead among women as well as men, and voters aged 60 and older as well as younger voters. (For the complete poll data, click here).
One of the more devastating results for Clinton was that a majority of all registered voters now see her as dishonest and untrustworthy. According to the poll, just four in 10 (41 percent) registered voters view the New York senator as honest and trustworthy, while 51 percent think the opposite. This compares with solid majorities of voters who see Obama and McCain as honest and trustworthy (both polled 61 percent).
The results suggest that Clinton was damaged more by being caught in a tall tale about landing in Bosnia under sniper fire than Obama has been by his recent controversies, including the firestorm of criticism provoked by the Illinois senator's remarks that blue-collar voters "cling" to religion, guns and other issues because of their bitterness. In addition, over half (53 percent) of voters say they believe Obama shares their values, more than those who say the same thing about Clinton (47 percent) or McCain (45 percent).
Even so, the poll indicates that both Obama and Clinton have been harmed by the fierce attacks they have aimed at each other. While Obama has a 57 percent favorable rating among all voters in the latest survey, that represents a 4 percent drop from March, and his unfavorable rating has jumped from 28 percent to 36 percent. Clinton is viewed favorably by just 49 percent, compared to 56 percent in March, while 47 percent view her as unfavorable, compared to 40 percent in the previous poll. Even so, the unopposed McCain has also suffered a setback: his favorable rating has dipped to 52 percent from 55 percent, while his unfavorable rating has increased to 42 percent from 35 percent.
There were a few bright spots in the new poll for the Clinton campaign. Among all registered voters, including Republicans, she did about as well as Obama against McCain. Obama bests McCain by 4 points (48 percent to 44 percent), and Clinton also wins by 4 points (47 to 43 percent). Neither lead is considered statistically significant. However, in a race against McCain, Obama gets more independent support than Clinton does. Another positive sign for Clinton is that nearly half (46 percent) of Democratic voters don't think the superdelegates should adhere to the overall results of the primaries and caucuses but should support whichever candidate they feel is best qualified. Another four in 10 (38 percent) want these party leaders and elected officials to support the popular vote winner, and just 12 percent want them to base their vote on the pledged delegate count. Even among Obama supporters, there is a high level of support (41 percent) for letting the superdelegates make their own choice.
It is not clear to what extent Wednesday night's debate in Philadelphia affected the overall results. Clinton, aided by debate moderators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos of ABC, kept Obama mostly on the defensive over his associations with Pastor Jeremiah Wright and Chicago professor William Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground who served on a community board with Obama and once hosted a campaign event for the candidate at his home. Obama was also questioned about his decision not to wear a flag lapel pin. Stacy DiAngelo of Princeton Survey Research Associates, which did the April 16-17 polling, says that of the registered voters who were surveyed 517 were interviewed after the debate and 692 before. She added that the views of those surveyed remained largely constant.
But Obama appears to have the momentum on nearly every front, both among Democrats and general voters nationwide. Clinton's prospects for snatching the nomination from the Democratic front runner at this point depend mainly on her ability to persuade uncommitted "superdelegates"—those who are not bound by particular primary results—that she is more likely to defeat John McCain. But by a large margin (55 percent to 33 percent) Democratic voters now say Obama—not Clinton—is the candidate they believe is more likely to defeat McCain in November. In the March poll Obama's advantage was much smaller (44 percent to 38 percent).
The poll pointed up a trouble sign for McCain as well, which is that no one's forgotten how old he is. While voters have mixed opinions about whether Obama's race will do more to help or hurt his chances of being elected president (20 percent vs. 22 percent, respectively), and Clinton's gender is only somewhat more likely to be seen as a hindrance than a help (27 percent vs. 20 percent), McCain's age may be the biggest vulnerability of all in the eyes of the voters. Nearly four in 10 (36 percent) think the Arizona senator's age—at 71, he would be the oldest president ever to assume office for the first time—will hurt his chances of winning.
Finally, the door is still open for Al Gore, the survey showed. If the battle for the Democratic nomination extends into the party's convention in August, about half (49 percent) of Democratic voters think the party should consider nominating the former vice president as a way to break the deadlock.
This poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from April 16-17, 2008. Telephone interviews were conducted with 1,209 registered voters. Registered voters were screened from a random-digit-dial (RDD) telephone sample of 1,356 national adults. Registration status is self-reported. Eighty-three percent of adults in the sample reported being registered. Thirty-nine percent of registered voters are Republicans or lean Republican and 53% of registered voters are Democrats or lean Democratic. 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 3 percentage points for results based on 1,209 registered voters. Results based on smaller subgroups are subject to larger margins of sampling error.