Volatility Beneath Stability
The new Pew Research Center survey released today finds little change in either the primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama or the potential general election match-ups between either Democrat and John McCain. But potential negatives on both Democratic candidates are percolating beneath the stable horse-race numbers.
Obama appears to have beaten back the controversy over sermons by his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but the incident has scratched the veneer of inevitability that had started to surround the Illinois senator.
The proportion of Democrats who believe Obama is more likely to win the nomination than Clinton has declined 13 points since February, from 70 percent to 57 percent, with the bulk of the change due to increased confidence among Clinton supporters that their candidate has the better shot. In February, just a third of her backers said she was more likely to win the nomination, 51 percent said so in the new poll.
But the new poll finds Clinton hampered by negative assessments of her personal qualities by an electorate in which just a quarter see significant policy differences between the two candidates. More on the challenges faced by both candidates after the jump.
The furor surrounding Rev. Wright's sermons is a likely contributor to the decline in perceptions that Obama is more apt to emerge the winner. In the Pew News Interest Index survey for the week following the controversy, 70 percent said Obama was the candidate about whom they had heard the most, and in the new poll, three-quarters of registered voters had heard about Wright's remarks.
About half of those who had heard about the sermons (including six in 10 Clinton supporters) were offended by Wright's words, and a third said they felt less favorable towards Obama as a result. A new poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal found similar results, with 55 percent reporting they were disturbed by Wright's commentary.
There was also a stark racial divide in reactions to Obama's speech on race and politics:
Among whites who saw the speech Obama delivered March 18, 46 percent said they were left with "uncertainties and doubts about his thinking and beliefs on the issue of race," while just 14 percent of African Americans had the same reaction.
But at the same time, Obama's overall favorability rating has remained stable: 56 percent in the Pew survey held positive views and 34 percent negative views, about the same as in late-February.
Overall, two-thirds of Democrats said Obama did an excellent or good job handling the melee, and the percentage saying that if he became the nominee he would be hurt by being an African American has actually dipped, from 27 percent in September to 25 percent in January to 21 percent now.
General agreement with his views on race could be helping him: in a CBS News poll released late last week, 63 percent of those following news about the speech said that they agreed with Obama's views on race, including 73 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of independents, and 43 percent of Republicans.
But Pew's analysis shows that Obama faces a challenge among white Democrats with more conservative views on social justice issues. About a quarter of white Democrats agreed that the country has gone too far in pushing equal rights, and about one in 10 disagreed that interracial dating is acceptable. Pew's analysis shows a correlation between these more conservative views and support for Obama in the general election.
Almost two-thirds of Democrats said Obama and Clinton offer similar policy positions. For most, the difference lies in candidate attributes, and this area is where Clinton's potential stumbling blocks emerge. Democratic voters were more likely to say that Obama is "down-to-Earth" and "inspiring" than Clinton, while she had an advantage as the more "patriotic" candidate.
But Clinton was more widely viewed as holding several negative attributes, including "phony" and "hard-to-like," and was less likely to be viewed as "honest." About a third of Democrats said the former first lady has made them feel "angry," and three in 10 said she has made them "uneasy." A quarter said the same of Obama.
Among all voters, 51 percent described Clinton as "hard-to-like," but just 17 percent said the same of Obama. Three-quarters of Republicans said Clinton was difficult to warm up to, about the same percentage labeling her "phony."
And the ongoing campaign has not done much to improve Clinton's image. The NBC-Wall Street Journal poll finds her favorability rating sagging to 37 percent from 45 percent earlier this month, and the percentage who said she would be "very successful" at uniting all Americans and reducing partisan infighting has dipped from 25 percent in January to 15 percent now.
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