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Republicans Divided in Preferences for Democratic Nominee

Clinton preferred by 48%, Obama 44%

PRINCETON, NJ -- With the Republican nomination long since settled, whom would the GOP faithful rather see John McCain take on in the fall campaign? According to the April 18-20 USA Today/Gallup poll, Republicans -- like Democrats -- are divided in their preferences, with 48% saying they would rather see Hillary Clinton win the Democratic nomination and 44% Barack Obama.

Given the ongoing attention to the Democratic nomination campaign in the news media and on talk shows, Republicans have competing motivations for deciding whom they would rather see McCain compete against in the general election. Some have more serious concerns about one of the two Democratic candidates possibly being elected than the other, and thus would rather see the "lesser of two evils" emerge as the nominee. Others are more strategic in their preferences, and regardless of how they feel about the two Democrats, want the outcome to be settled in a way that gives the GOP the best chance of winning in November. In other words, they would rather see the Democrats nominate the candidate they think McCain would have an easier time defeating, even if that candidate is the one they would least like to see as the next president.

The poll attempted to discern which motivation is more prevalent by asking Republicans whether they would rather see Obama or Clinton nominated, and then these follow-ups to get at why:

  • (Asked of Republicans who would rather see Obama nominated) Would you rather see Barack Obama nominated because -- [ROTATED: you think John McCain would have a better chance of defeating Barack Obama than Hillary Clinton for president, (or because) you are more worried about the possibility of Hillary Clinton becoming president than you are worried about Barack Obama becoming president]?
  • (Asked of Republicans who would rather see Clinton nominated) Would you rather see Hillary Clinton nominated because -- [ROTATED: you think John McCain would have a better chance of defeating Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama for president, (or because) you are more worried about the possibility of Barack Obama becoming president than you are worried about Hillary Clinton becoming president]?

In general, most Republicans (59%) seem to be rooting for the Democrat they perceive as the lesser of two evils -- 33% prefer Obama because they are more worried about Clinton being elected and 26% prefer Clinton because they are more worried about Obama being elected. Just 22% of combined Republican Obama and Clinton supporters can be considered strategic because their choice of Democratic nominee is mostly based on their perceptions of whom McCain has the better chance of defeating.

Republicans who back Clinton for the Democratic nomination are about twice as likely as Obama backers to say their choice is based on the belief that the candidate is the weaker of the two Democrats. The vast majority of GOP Obama supporters (74% of this group) say they prefer Obama because they are more worried about the possibility of Clinton becoming president. A smaller majority of GOP Clinton supporters (54%) say they would rather see her win because they have greater concerns about Obama being elected.

Those results are in keeping with Republicans' basic opinions of the two candidates. Though neither Democrat is viewed very positively by Republicans, they seem to like Obama more than Clinton. Obama's favorable rating among Republicans is 34%, compared to just 24% for Clinton.

Gallup Poll Daily tracking also finds slightly more Republicans willing to vote for the Democratic candidate in the fall if Obama is the nominee than if Clinton is. In a hypothetical Obama-McCain matchup, 10% of Republican registered voters say they would vote for Obama rather than McCain if the election were held today, compared to 7% who would cast their ballots for Clinton if she faced McCain in the presidential election.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 418 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, aged 18 and older, conducted April 18-20, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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