With the economy struggling and President Bush's approval ratings resting below 30 percent in most polls, John McCain faces an uphill battle in his quest to convince voters that the GOP deserves to hold onto the White House. Though McCain enjoys a "maverick" reputation apart from his party, polling suggests that presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama is benefiting from his party ID early on in the general election contest.
Over seven in 10 respondents to new polls from both NBC News/Wall Street Journal [PDF] and Diageo/Hotline [PDF] worry that the country is headed in the wrong direction. Sixty-nine percent told NBC/WSJ that the country is currently in a "state of decline," with just one-quarter disagreeing.
Not surprisingly, NBC/WSJ also found that voters are eager for change. Nearly six in 10 reported that they would prefer a president who will focus on moving America forward, compared with 37 percent who said the next president should "focus on protecting what has made America great." Additionally, 54 percent said they value change over experience when considering the candidates, while 42 percent said they are looking for someone who is tested.
When asked whether they would rather see a Democrat or a Republican win the presidency in November, 51 percent of voters told NBC/WSJ they prefer a Democrat, with 35 percent saying a Republican. A 44-percent plurality in the Diageo/Hotline poll indicated that, if they had to vote today, they would choose the Democratic candidate, versus 38 percent who would choose the Republican. Moreover, a 51-percent majority predicted that a Democrat will win the White House.
Obama is currently topping McCain in both surveys' head-to-head matchups, as well. Forty-one percent of voters in Diageo/Hotline's poll report that they would vote for Obama if they had to vote today, compared with 37 percent for McCain, while in NBC/WSJ Obama enjoys a 6-point lead, 47 percent to 41 percent. A 54-percent majority of voters in NBC/WSJ expect Obama to win the election, with 30 percent predicting a McCain victory.
The level of support for the Illinois senator within his own party also appears to be more enthusiastic than Republicans' zeal for McCain. Of those who voted in the Republican primaries, only 52 percent told Diageo/Hotline that they were satisfied with McCain as the party's nominee, while 45 percent maintained that they prefer someone else. Sixty-eight percent of Democrats, on the other hand, reported that they are happy with the outcome of the primaries, with just 30 percent saying they would prefer someone else.
Meanwhile, NBC/WSJ finds that many who say they will vote for McCain are only doing so because they are opposed to Obama. Thirty-six percent of those choosing McCain said that their vote would be more against Obama than for McCain; only 7 percent of Obama supporters claimed an anti-McCain intention to their vote. Of Obama supporters overall, 50 percent claimed they will vote for him because they genuinely support him, and 41 percent claimed it will be more a vote against Bush and the Republican Party in general.
Battleground States: 2004 And Today
National Journal's poll of political insiders finds that respondents on both sides of the aisle agree on which states are most likely to vote differently in this year's presidential election than they did in 2004. The John Kerry state that poses the greatest challenge for Obama to hold this time is New Hampshire, according to six in 10 Democratic insiders and three-quarters of Republicans. One GOP insider contended that "John McCain is God in that state. And a lot of Democrats and independents voted for him in primaries."
Other major challenges for Obama -- and therefore opportunities for McCain -- include the "working-class white voters and 'bitter' rural voters" of Pennsylvania (as one Dem insider put it) and voters in Michigan, where the Democratic brand has been tainted by its delegate mess and scandals surrounding Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. More than a third of Dem insiders' said these states are potential roadblocks for Obama, and more than 40 percent of GOP insiders indicated they would be vulnerable targets for McCain.
The 2004 Bush state that insiders said Obama has the best chance of picking up is, overwhelmingly, Iowa -- according to more than 70 percent of Democrats and almost the same percentage of Republicans. New Mexico came in second, with one-third of Republicans and 44 percent of Democrats agreeing that Obama has a good chance there.