Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Clinton, McCain Pull Ahead in New Nationwide Poll

A new nationwide survey from the Los Angeles Times finds Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama by a substantial margin, with 42 percent support, compared to 33 percent for Obama.

On the Republican side, John McCain holds a slight lead over his GOP challengers. The Times' report has the details:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) maintains a solid lead in her party's presidential race among Democratic voters nationwide, despite a surge in support since late last year for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll has found.

Clinton was preferred by 42% of the likely Democratic voters polled, Obama by 33% -- a significant increase for him since a similar poll in early December, when he was the choice of 21%. Clinton's support remained virtually unchanged over that period.

The overall preference figures mask a pronounced racial divide among Democratic voters: About two-thirds of black respondents said they would vote for Obama, while only about one-fourth of white respondents said he was their choice.

The poll also found that an increasing number of Democratic voters -- about two-thirds -- say they are certain who they will vote for, making major swings in preference less likely as the primary season heads into the states with the most delegates at stake.

"Now that Democrats have winnowed down their race to two leading candidates, they are moving toward the candidates they will probably vote for," said Susan Pinkus, the poll's director. "Obama has gained some support, but Clinton has not lost any. The question now is: Where do the remaining voters go?"

Former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina drew the support of 11% of Democratic respondents.

When asked for whom they would vote if their first choice dropped out, slightly more Edwards voters leaned toward Clinton than toward Obama, the poll found.

In the Republican presidential contest, voter support is scattered among four candidates.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona has inched up to first place, though his lead is within the poll's margin of error. Meanwhile, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, once the clear front-runner nationally in the GOP race, has sagged to fourth place.

The survey found that 22% of likely Republican voters preferred McCain, 18% backed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and almost as many -- 17% -- chose former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Giuliani was supported by 12%, down dramatically from 32% in an October poll and 23% in the December survey. Giuliani decided not to compete actively in the first several contests in the Republican race and has staked his candidacy on a strong showing in Florida's primary Tuesday.

Fred Thompson, who ended his candidacy Tuesday after a disappointing showing in Saturday's South Carolina primary, garnered 10%, while Ron Paul, who has proved surprisingly successful at raising money from a core of supporters, drew 6%.

The Republican electorate remains volatile.

For the Democrats, Clinton has consolidated a clear national frontrunner position following her victories in New Hampshire and Nevada. Senator Obama's likely to do well in South Carolina on Saturday, however - where polls in the Palmetto State have him holding a lead - but it remains to be seen if he'll be able to pick up enough momentum to overtake Clinton's clear national favorability ratings before the February 5 round of 22 state primaries.

Still, Clinton's weakness in South Carolina has forced a shift in strategy, as the campaign is now looking at competing for delegates in states where the candidate's known to have the advantage.

Trends for the Republicans are less clear, as the current poll shows a tight race. Things are probably even more complicated than the survey reveals, as respondents were contacted before Fred Thompson quit the race.

So far it's too early to tell which candidate jilted Thompson supporters will back, although Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post thinks McCain might get a slight boost in his numbers, after Huckebee and Romney divvy up the initial batch of former Thompson backers.

See also the discussion of the survey at Bloomberg.

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times