Now that the grueling primary battle is over, voters and Washington insiders alike can finally direct their attention to the general election matchup between the two presumptive party nominees: Barack Obama and John McCain.
New data [PDF] from CBS News pollsters shows Americans are still divided between the candidates on questions such as whether they understand ordinary voters and how well they could lead the military. (The survey was conducted before Obama gained enough delegates to claim the nomination.) More respondents indicated that Obama cares "a lot" about issues affecting them -- 38 percent -- than said the same of McCain -- 22 percent. Even members of the GOP doubted that McCain cared "a lot" about their concerns, with a surprisingly low 35 percent indicating as much (almost six in 10 Democrats said so about Obama).
When it comes to leading the military, however, McCain bested Obama across the board. Only a quarter of respondents called it "very likely" that Obama would be an effective commander in chief of the military, whereas 39 percent said so of McCain. As GOP voters questioned McCain's commitment to their concerns, so too were Democrats less bullish on Obama's readiness to lead the military. A 62-percent majority of GOP voters said McCain would "very likely" be a good leader of the military, compared with a 42-percent plurality of Democrats who said the same of Obama.
Even though Hillary Rodham Clinton is set to endorse Obama on Saturday, voters still consider her a strong candidate against McCain, and this survey actually shows Clinton outperforming Obama in general election matchups against the Arizona senator. Obama led McCain by 6 points, but Clinton led him by 9 points. Among Democrats, 80 percent said they would vote for Obama over McCain, but 84 percent said they would pick Clinton over McCain.
These numbers bolster talk that Obama must gain the die-hard Clinton supporters in order to win in November. With Clinton's chances of becoming the Democratic nominee all but officially extinct, though, the numbers also show that nearly six in 10 Democratic respondents want a "dream ticket" with Clinton as Obama's second-in-command.
But majorities in both parties -- 77 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of Democrats -- agree that this primary season marathon has hurt the Democratic Party. Sixty-three percent of all respondents said the bitter battle has been detrimental to the Democrats' chances of winning in November.
Race's Complicated Role
The same CBS News poll [PDF] also finds that race will probably continue to play a role in the general election. While nearly seven in 10 respondents told pollsters that America is ready to elect a black president, there were still almost a quarter who said the country isn't there yet. Similarly, 63 percent of those surveyed said most people they know would vote for a black presidential candidate, but 26 percent expressed doubts.
Almost no one was willing to tell pollsters that a candidate's race would be the most important factor in their decision, but one in five acknowledged that they did consider race in making their decision. An overwhelming 89-percent majority, however, said they were happy that a black candidate "has been a serious contender for president."
A sense of history has surrounded the 2008 election from the beginning, with both a black and a female candidate running, and the CBS poll shows that this aspect of the contest has captured many voters' attention. Forty-eight percent of respondents reported that they have been more interested in this year's election because of Obama's candidacy, while only 14 percent said the same of McCain's candidacy.
Several black politicians interviewed by Politico on Wednesday maintained that Obama has broken a barrier with his victory in the primaries, and the CBS poll finds evidence that the general public feels that way as well. Nearly seven in 10 respondents agreed that Obama's candidacy has "made it easier for other black candidates to run for president" in the future.