WASHINGTON - The first contests of the 2008 presidential campaign have led to a dramatic shake-up in public opinion nationally, with Senator John McCain now leading the Republican field and Senator Barack Obama all but erasing Senator Hillary Clinton's once-overwhelming advantage among Democrats, according to a new
As the campaigns head into the next round of voting this week, the competitive contests in both parties have captured the public's attention. Four in five are closely tuned in, and a third are "very closely" following the races, a sharp increase from a month ago, and well higher than the proportions saying so at this stage in 2000 or 2004.
Clinton had dominated in national polls from the outset, holding a 30-point advantage as recently as a month ago, but the competitiveness of the first two contests appears to have reverberated among Democrats across the country.
In the new poll conducted Jan. 9-12, 42 percent of likely Democratic voters support Clinton of New York, and 37 percent back Obama of Illinois. Clinton's support is down 11 percentage points from a month ago, with Obama's up 14. Former senator John Edwards of North Carolina held third position with 11 percent, followed by Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio at 2 percent.
The big gains by McCain of Arizona, which come after his victory in the New Hampshire primary, mark the first time he has topped the Republican field in a Post-ABC News national survey. His rise mirrors a dramatic tumble for former mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York, who led most national polls throughout 2007.
Giuliani, who finished well back in both Iowa and New Hampshire, ranks fourth in the new poll at 15 percent. McCain, meanwhile, has more than double the support he had a month ago and now stands at 28 percent among likely GOP voters. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who scored a big victory in the Iowa caucuses, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the runner-up in both early contests, sit just above Giuliani, at 20 and 19 percent, respectively.
Former senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee registers 8 percent, in single digits for the first time, with only half the support he had in early November. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who got 10 percent of the votes in Iowa and 8 percent in New Hampshire, is at 3 percent; Representative Duncan Hunter of California is at 2 percent.
The sudden turnaround in national sentiment partly reflects the continued uncertainty among Republican voters about their field of candidates. Although McCain sits atop the GOP field, only a third of his supporters back him "strongly." This week's primaries in Michigan and Iowa may further unsettle the race.
McCain's success in New Hampshire has translated into across-the-board gains among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents. By 2 to 1 over Giuliani, McCain is seen as the candidate with the best experience to be president, the new poll said. He also tops the field on electability and leadership for the first time.
A New York Times/CBS News Poll released yesterday found that McCain was viewed more favorably than his major opponents. Nationwide, 33 percent of Republican primary voters in the poll, taken Jan. 9-12, named McCain as their choice, up from 7 percent a month ago. The same poll found that Obama has improved his standing among Democrats on the issue of electability, although Clinton still led on that measure. The percentage of Democrats who say he would be the strongest candidate against the Republicans has more than doubled in a month, to 35 percent from 14 percent in December.