For all of the worry over the length and tone of the Democratic primary race, by many measures this still looks like a year for Democrats to capitalize on significant Republican disadvantages. Although John McCain's image as a political independent could help him overcome some of the hurdles facing other Republican candidates, new polling data suggest that even he might not be able to escape the backlash among voters that President Bush has inspired.
With Bush's approval rating down to 33 percent in the Diageo/Hotline poll [PDF], the incumbent would likely prove a liability for any candidate, and Democrats have already begun working hard to tie McCain to Bush. Bush received even lower marks for his handling of the Iraq war and the economy, with just 30 percent and 27 percent, respectively, approving of his efforts on those issues.
Both the Diageo/Hotline poll and a recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg survey [PDF] find high numbers of Americans saying the country is on the wrong track: 75 percent in Diageo/Hotline, marking an all-time high for the survey; and 77 percent in LAT/Bloomberg, the highest rate since 1991. Pluralities of voters in both polls cited the economy as the most important issue facing the U.S. today. And nearly eight in 10 respondents told LAT/Bloomberg pollsters that they think the U.S. is in an economic recession; nearly one-quarter were willing to label it a serious recession.
According to analysis of the LAT/Bloomberg survey, those voters who see the U.S. as headed in the wrong direction and who see the economy as the country's biggest problem are backing Democrats Barack Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton over McCain.
Even worse news for McCain: A majority of voters from his own party are not excited about his candidacy. Fifty-five percent of Republican primary voters told Diageo/Hotline that they would have preferred someone else as the Republican nominee. A 42-percent plurality said that they would vote for McCain, "but mainly as a vote against the Democratic candidate," as opposed to just 34 percent who said they would vote for him enthusiastically. By comparison, 56 percent of Democratic primary voters said they would vote wholeheartedly for Obama in November.
Who're You Calling A Spoiler?
Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader may influence voters across party lines come November, according to the Diageo/Hotline poll -- contrary to the assumption that he could be a spoiler to the Democratic Party only. When respondents were asked who they would vote for in the general election between McCain, Nader and either Obama or Clinton, Nader pulled roughly the same percentage of voters from both parties.
When respondents were asked who they would vote for between McCain and Obama, 45 percent chose Obama and 41 percent chose McCain. When Nader was entered into the equation, however, Obama's lead barely changed; he continued to edge McCain, 43 percent to 38 percent. (Nader received 5 percent of the total.) A general election matchup with Clinton, McCain and Nader yielded similar results.
On The Issues
According to the same poll, nearly half of Americans would vote for a Democratic candidate in the general election. On top of that, more than half, regardless of how they themselves would vote, said a Democrat would have the best chance of winning in November.
When a half-sample was asked which party would do the best job handling the economy, nearly half said the Democrats and 36 percent said the GOP. When the same question was applied to individual candidates, Clinton and Obama each grabbed 28 percent, while McCain edged out both of them with 29 percent. But taken together, the two Democrats handily outpaced McCain. And in the LAT/Bloomberg poll, respondents said Clinton was the candidate best qualified to handle the economic crisis, with 32 percent choosing her, compared with 26 percent for Obama and 23 percent for McCain.
Most of a half-sample in the Diageo/Hotline poll -- 53 percent -- also indicated that the Democratic Party would do a better job handling health care than the Republican Party. With names attached to the same question, McCain and Obama received 24 percent each, while Clinton beat them both with 36 percent.