PRINCETON, NJ -- The intense battle for the Democratic nomination between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama seems to have done little to diminish Democrats' affinity for the New York senator. Eighty percent of Democrats have a favorable opinion of her, compared to 74% just before Obama clinched the presidential nomination in early June and 82% before the primaries began, when she still rated as a strong front-runner for the nomination. Her favorable rating among all Americans is 54%, the most positive since just after she officially announced her candidacy in early 2007.
Obama rates above Clinton on basic favorability -- among both the general public (63%) and the Democratic rank-and-file (86%). Obama has typically rated higher than Clinton among the general public since the presidential primaries got under way in January.
But his higher favorable rating among Democrats is a more recent development. Clinton typically had higher favorable ratings than Obama throughout this presidential campaign season, but that to a large degree reflected Democrats' greater familiarity with Clinton than Obama (until recently, a substantial minority of Democrats did not have an opinion of Obama), rather than a more negative evaluation of Obama.
In any case, Democrats still see a future for Clinton in the Democratic Party. Seventy-nine percent want her to be a major national spokesperson for the party over the next four years as she completes her second term in the U.S. Senate. Just 18% of Democrats would prefer she have a less prominent role within the party.
Additionally, 75% of Democrats say they would like to see Clinton run for president again someday. Overall, Americans are not as high on a second Clinton presidential bid, with 52% in favor. That includes 50% of independents and only 24% of Republicans.
Will Clinton's Supporters Back Obama?
During the primaries, there was significant concern within Democratic ranks that large numbers of the eventual nomination loser's supporters would not back the nomination winner and thus hurt the party's chances of winning in November.
In the latest USA Today/Gallup poll, 16% of registered Democrats who say they supported Clinton in the primaries say they would vote for John McCain if the election were held today, and another 14% are undecided. One of Obama's and indeed Clinton's challenges during the Democratic Convention is to reduce those numbers. The vast majority of former Clinton supporters (70%) say they would back Obama, and they have a predominantly positive view of him (78% favorable and 18% unfavorable).
Even today, there remain concerns among Clinton backers that Obama does not give the Democratic Party the best chance of defeating McCain and the Republicans in the presidential election. A CNN/Opinion Research poll conducted Aug. 23-24 found the two running similarly in trial heats versus McCain, with Obama and McCain tied (47% to 47%) but Clinton having a slim but not statistically significant advantage over McCain (49% to 46%).
Even if many Democrats believe their odds of victory might be slightly better with Clinton rather than Obama headlining the ticket, there does not seem to be widespread support among the Democratic rank-and-file to deny Obama the nomination. The same CNN/Opinion Research poll finds 59% of Democrats saying that if the choice of Democratic nominee were up to them, they would choose Obama, while just 37% would anoint Clinton. That's about as strong as an endorsement as Republicans give McCain (57% would nominate him, 42% someone else), despite the fact that he won his party's nomination in a shorter, and perhaps less contentious, campaign than the Democratic contest.
A key question is to what extent those favoring another nominee would defect and vote for the other party in the general election. For the most part, the party supporters would remain loyal. As noted, the USA Today/Gallup poll finds 70% of former Clinton supporters saying they would vote for Obama if the election were held today (though only 47% say they are certain to do so). Additionally, the CNN/Opinion Research poll finds 66% of those who would nominate Clinton backing Obama versus McCain. That leaves a non-trivial percentage who would cross party lines -- among Democrats who say they would nominate Clinton if the choice were up to them, 27% would vote for McCain if the election were held today. But the GOP faces a similar problem, as 21% of Republicans who would rather the party nominate someone other than McCain say they would vote for Obama in the general election.
Obama and Clinton are doing their best to heal any remaining wounds within the Democratic Party from their protracted nomination battle. In general, Democrats still view Clinton positively, and welcome a prominent role for her within the party in the future.
While some Clinton supporters have yet to fall in line and support Obama for president, for the most part they have a positive opinion of Obama (as well as a largely negative view of McCain). So it is still not out of the question that they will come home by Election Day. But it is important to note that unifying the party is not a challenge unique to the Democratic Party, as many Republican supporters who are not enthusiastic about McCain have yet to return to the GOP fold.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,023 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 21-23, 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.
For results based on the sample of 341 Democrats, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 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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