Friday, October 5, 2007

Democrats Prefer Hillary Clinton to Her Rivals 2008

Democrats Prefer Clinton to Her Rivals 2008

October 04, 2007
Democrats Prefer Clinton to Her Rivals to Handle Most Policy Issues
However, ratings suggest possible bias against having a woman in the commander-in-chief role

by Lydia Saad


PRINCETON, NJ -- Sen. Hillary Clinton, who currently leads the Democratic race for the 2008 presidential nomination by more than 20 percentage points in a USA Today/Gallup poll, is also chosen by Democrats (including Democratic-leaning independents) as the candidate best able to handle many national issues. In fact, according to the latest Gallup Panel survey, Democrats perceive Clinton as the best prepared of the top three Democratic contenders to handle 13 of 17 different challenges that could face the next president.

While Clinton dominates on core policy issues, Sen. Barack Obama does relatively well on the handful of items included that tap into the candidates' ability to relate to people and heal divisions in the country. Democrats do not consider former Sen. John Edwards the best candidate on any issue.

Clinton Walks Away With Top Policy Issues

When given the choice of the top three Democratic candidates -- including Clinton, Obama, and Edwards -- an outright majority of Democrats say Clinton would do the best job on 6 out of 17 issues measured in the poll. This includes some of the major domestic policy issues that Americans typically rate among the most important to their vote for federal offices: healthcare, the economy, and education. It also includes two of the leading values issues in today's culture: abortion and gay marriage.

Clinton is preferred by a solid plurality of Democrats on an additional seven issues. Among these are terrorism and the situation in Iraq. She also holds solid leads on taxes, energy, and crime, and somewhat smaller leads on immigration and being commander-in-chief of the military.

Obama's Strength Is on the Personal Dimension

A majority of Democrats prefer Obama on only one issue: race relations. He also leads Clinton and Edwards with a sizeable plurality as the candidate best able to inspire Americans.

While being inspiring could be a valuable asset to a candidate, particularly as campaigning picks up closer to the first primaries, Obama's existing lead in that area is evidently not enough to compensate for Clinton's overwhelming advantage on policy issues. Otherwise, he might not be trailing Clinton by as much as 22 points in Gallup's latest trial heat.

Obama's image as someone who can move people is also evident in his relatively strong scores for healing political divisions in the country; he edges out Clinton by a statistically non-significant 3 points on this item. Obama also ties Clinton as the candidate most likely to be perceived as "reforming the way the government in Washington works" -- something that could require as much interpersonal as political skill. (Reform has been a focal point of the Obama campaign, so the fact that he only ties Clinton among Democrats on the issue is notable.)

Edwards Is Shut Out

Edwards, currently in third place for the Democratic nomination, is shut out of contention for top billing on all of the 17 issues.

Notably, Edwards receives his highest score -- 28% -- for being commander-in-chief of the military. This is much higher than his average score of 18% for all 17 issues.

The fact that Edwards receives his highest rating on the commander-in-chief dimension could say more about what Democrats think of Clinton and Obama on this issue, than what they think of Edwards.


Clinton could be underperforming on the commander-in-chief item because she is a woman. This is suggested by the fact that she is much more widely chosen for "handling relations with other countries" than for being "commander-in-chief of the military": 54% vs. 38%.

Obama may not be the perfect commander-in-chief alternative to Clinton for the Democrats. He went on record this summer saying that, as president, he would consider a unilateral invasion of Pakistan to root out terrorists, and promised to engage in diplomacy talks with the leaders of nations hostile to the United States. This earned Obama considerable criticism from his Democratic rivals, and may explain Clinton's expanded lead in Gallup's trial heat polls in the past two months. (See "Clinton Bounds Further Ahead in Democratic Contest" in Related Items.)
Indeed, the percentage choosing Obama as best able to handle relations with other countries fell by five points between January 2007 and today.

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