Three Major Polls Show Democratic Race Close, McCain Far Ahead

Posted February 3, 2008 at 2:03pm

Three major national polls came out today, telling the same story: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are locked in a tight race, while John McCain has pulled away from the rest of the GOP field and looks more and more like an un-catchable frontrunner.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted Jan.30-Feb.1 had Clinton leading Obama 47 percent to 43 percent, with a three point margin of error. On the GOP side, John McCain had a 48 percent to 24 percent lead over Mitt Romney, with Mike Huckabee at 16 percent and Ron Paul at 7 percent.

A Pew Research Center survey, conducted Jan.30-Feb.2, gave Clinton a 46 percent to 38 percent lead with a 4.5 percent margin of error. Two significant notes on Pew’s findings: Clinton’s lead has been cut in half since mid-January, and the number of undecided voters has risen from 6 percent to 15 percent, suggesting neither candidate profited much from John Edwards’ withdrawal. On the Republican side, where the margin of error is 5 percent, McCain leads with 42 percent (up from 29 percent in January) to Romney’s 22 percent, Huckabee’s 20 percent and Paul’s 5 percent.

And the Gallup daily tracking poll had Clinton and Obama in a statistical dead heat at 46 percent to 44 percent with a 3 percent margin of error. On the Republican side, McCain was leading Romney 43 percent to 24 percent with 18 percent for Huckabee. Yesterday’s Gallup survey had Clinton slightly expanding a margin that had shrunk to 3 points in one of last week’s daily reports.

In hypothetical general election match-ups, The Post-ABC News poll said McCain would beat Clinton 49 percent to 46 percent, but would lose to Obama by the same margin. Romney would lose to either Democrat by double-digits. The Pew poll found that McCain and Obama “stand apart from the other candidates in their wide appeal across partisan lines.”

Unsurprisingly, the Post-ABC News poll said that the 46 percent of Democrats who placed most importance on strength and experience, Clinton was favored 75 percent to 17 percent. But the coin flipped among the 45 percent of respondents who cared more about “new direction and news ideas,” with Obama leading 70 percent to 22 percent. Obama has closed the gap on the electability question, with 47 percent of voters believing Clinton had the best chance to become President to Obama’s 42 percent. Clinton bested Obama, when Democratic interviewees were asked who they trusted to better handle the issues of health care, the economy and Iraq.

Some notes from the Pew details:

– Forty one percent of all voters express discomfort with “Bill Clinton back in the White House.” Check out the Washington Post’s story today on the Bill Clinton factor.
– Voters across party lines are pretty unhappy with the state of things in the country. Only 24 percent said they were satisfied with the state of the nation, and only 17 percent felt that economic conditions were excellent or good.
– Although a lot of the state-by-state polls in our Super Tuesday wrap-ups have shown a sharp ethnic divide, Pew says that the gap in candidate preferences among black and white Democratic voters has narrowed.

On the Republican side, McCain wins hands-down in the Post-ABC News poll on the electability question, besting Romney 67 percent to 14 percent. Asked who best reflected the core values of the Republican Party, McCain led Romney by a lesser 41 percent to 25 percent.

Pew said its findings among GOP voters show that McCain is the most likely to unite the Republican base, a result similar to the Post-ABC News question about who reflected Republican values the best. McCain is viewed favorably by 61 percent of Huckabee supporters and 59 percent of Romney supporters.

***To read about the top issues in this campaign region-by-region, check out CQ Politics’ summaries for the Northeast,
South and the Midwest, with more installments yet to come on the rest of the states.***