February 28, 2008

Obama Has The Lead, But Potential Problems Too

Section 2: Candidate Images

While McCain’s image has improved among Republicans, it has slipped decidedly among both Democrats and independents in recent weeks. As a result, the share of registered voters who say they have an unfavorable view of the likely Republican nominee is at a new high of 38%, up from 31% on the eve of Super Tuesday.

Historically, John McCain has not been a polarizing political figure. As recently as two years ago, he received comparably favorable marks from Republicans (61%), Democrats (56%) and independents (57%). But as he has moved closer to winning the GOP nomination, Democratic views of McCain are becoming increasingly critical. Currently, about twice as many Democrats have an unfavorable opinion of McCain as have a favorable view (57% vs. 29%, respectively). Just three weeks ago, Democratic views of McCain were divided (44% unfavorable vs. 42% favorable).

More independent voters also express unfavorable opinions of McCain in the current survey. A narrow majority of independents (51%) now expresses a positive view of McCain, but 38% say they have an unfavorable impression, up 13 points in less than a month.

McCain’s Age an Issue

The vast majority of registered voters (72%) say they do not think John McCain is too old to be president. But about a quarter (26%) say they think he is too old, and this proportion rises to nearly a third (32%) when voters are informed that McCain is currently 71 years old. Concerns about McCain’s age are nearly identical to how voters felt about Bob Dole’s age at a comparable point in the 1996 campaign, according to polls by Gallup and the Los Angeles Times.

In general, McCain’s age is of greater concern to older voters than it is to younger voters. Just 24% of voters under age 35 themselves believe that, at 71, McCain is too old to serve. But among voters who themselves are of retirement age, 40% say that McCain is too old.

Democrats are more than twice as likely as Republicans (33% vs. 14%) to say that McCain is too old to be president, even when his age is not mentioned. Democrats react even more negatively when informed that McCain is 71 years old. About half of Democrats (52%) say that, at 71, McCain is too old, compared with just 16% of Republicans. For independents, roughly a quarter expresses concern about McCain’s age, regardless of whether his current age of 71 is mentioned or not.

Views of the Candidates: Disclosing Plans, Policies

A majority of voters (56%) say that Obama has not provided enough information about his policies and plans for the country. By comparison, just 28% say that Clinton has said too little about her plans and policies, while 37% say that about McCain.

Perceptions that Obama has not provided enough information about his positions are especially apparent among Republicans (71%), but a solid majority of independents (60%) and a considerable minority of Democratic voters (43%) share this concern.

Among Democratic voters, a solid majority of Obama supporters (70%) believes that he has provided sufficient information about his policy plans, but just 28% of Clinton supporters agree. By contrast, 72% of Obama supporters and 87% of Clinton supporters believe that Clinton has provided enough information about her plans and policies.

Foreign Policy Ratings

A sizable minority of voters also expresses concern that Obama’s approach to foreign policy and national security would not be tough enough; 43% say this, compared with 39% who say it would be about right. In contrast, 47% say McCain’s approach would be about right and 44% say Clinton’s would be.

Concern that Obama’s approach to foreign policy and national security would not be tough enough is more widespread among Republican and independent voters (70% and 45%, respectively), but as many as a quarter of voters in Obama’s own party also say he would not be tough enough.

McCain, in turn, is seen by some voters as too tough in dealing with foreign policy and national security. Fully 37% of Democratic voters and 28% of independent voters worry that McCain would be too tough.

Candidate Likeability

Voters have a more positive opinion of Barack Obama personally than they do of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Fully 85% say Obama is likeable, compared with 76% and 63% who say the same about McCain and Clinton, respectively. And while solid majorities see all three candidates as at least somewhat likeable, fully half say Obama is very likeable. By comparison, just 26% of voters say Clinton is very likeable and even fewer (21%) say the same about McCain.

On balance, Obama and McCain are viewed as personally likeable by voters in their respective parties as well as by members of the opposing party. Nearly eight-in-ten Republican voters (79%) say Obama is at least somewhat likeable and 68% of Democratic voters view McCain as likeable. Conversely, Clinton has little crossover appeal to voters, personally. Fully six-in-ten Republicans say the New York senator is not likeable.

Not surprisingly, those in Obama’s own party are especially likely to offer a strong positive assessment of the Illinois senator — nearly six-in-ten Democrats (59%) say he is very likeable. But Obama is also seen as very likeable by a majority of independent voters (51%) and by a substantial minority of Republicans (37%).

Hillary Clinton and John McCain, on the other hand, are seen as very likeable by considerably fewer independent voters (18% and 13%, respectively). Among Democrats, 44% say Clinton is very likeable, and just about a third (32%) of Republicans express that opinion about their own party’s frontrunner.

Candidate One-Worders

“Inexperience” is the word that most often comes to the minds of voters when asked for the single word that best describes Barack Obama. On balance, however, more voters use positive words than negative ones to describe Obama. His charisma and intelligence are the second and third most commonly mentioned qualities, and such words as “change,” “inspirational,” “young,” and “new” also are mentioned frequently.

In contrast with Obama, the one word most commonly volunteered to describe Hillary Clinton is “experienced.” She also is seen as “intelligent,” “smart,” “knowledgeable,” and “strong,” which has been a top descriptor of Clinton since the mid- to late-1990′s. Yet negative words also are used to describe Clinton, with “untrustworthy” the most common.

McCain is most often described as “old,” but voters also frequently use the words “honest,” “experienced,” and “patriot” to describe him. McCain’s ideology also is on the minds of voters, as several called him “conservative.”