WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans are less likely now than they were during the primary season to see presidential contenders John McCain and Barack Obama as having political views that are "about right," while they are notably more likely to see McCain as "too conservative."
Both McCain and Obama face the challenge of modifying their primary platforms for the general election, and both have been accused of "flip-flopping" on their viewpoints to achieve the gains they seek. At the same time, some Americans may be getting to know the candidates better, or for the first time. Yet, compared to the days immediately following Super Tuesday, a USA Today/Gallup poll finds both candidates losing, rather than gaining, fans of their political views.
This shift appears to be worse for McCain than Obama, notably among independents, who are at once more likely than they were in February to see McCain's political views as "too conservative" and less likely to see his views as "about right."
McCain's shift toward the right on offshore drilling, taxes, immigration, and other issues does not appear to be paying off among Republicans as of yet. Republicans overall have become no more likely to consider McCain's views "about right." At the same time, Republicans have grown twice as likely to consider him "too conservative" (which could be a negative among moderate or liberal Republicans). Although McCain was once lauded for his bipartisan views, the percentage of Democrats who see him as "too conservative" has jumped by 14 points to become a majority.
Since the February poll, Obama endured several more months of campaigning against Hillary Clinton, and since he secured the nomination, some observers have characterized him as shifting toward more middle-of-the-road positions on gun ownership, late-term abortions, foreign intelligence surveillance, and Iraq. But Gallup finds Obama gaining positioning strength among Democrats, who are more likely now than in February to consider his positions "about right." Republicans, on the other hand, are now even less approving of Obama's views than before.
While fewer Americans currently say McCain's views are "about right" than say that about Obama's, the presumptive Democratic nominee has his own vulnerability in that more than half of Americans (52%) say they are very or somewhat concerned that Obama has aligned himself with people who hold radical views. Only 42% of Americans say the same about McCain.
In Obama's case, the data may suggest continuing fallout from comments made by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, or perhaps his association with former political radical William Ayers.
McCain is not without some uncomfortable associations of his own, most notably for first seeking but ultimately rejecting the endorsement of the Rev. John Hagee, who made controversial statements about Catholics and Jews. The fact that McCain's associations are less likely to generate concern, however, might be a result of the fact that some notable conservatives, whom some liberals might perceive as "radical," have been critical of McCain, including Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.
Together, these findings underscore the challenge the candidates face in repositioning themselves for November. Both McCain and Obama are walking the traditional fine line between attempting to attract new support and at the same time being careful not to lose traction among their existing backers. Now, both campaigns must contend with the finding that fewer voters now than earlier this year see their candidate's political views as "about right."
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,625 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 15-19, 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 ±3 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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