NEW YORK – While Sen. Hillary Clinton (search) easily tops several Republican opponents in hypothetical 2006 U.S. Senate match-ups, New York voters are fairly evenly divided when it comes to possible 2008 presidential candidates, according to a FOX News Poll.
The poll of New York State voters tested four possible Republican challengers to Clinton in her upcoming race for re-election to the U.S. Senate, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (search) performs best — coming within 10 percentage points of the incumbent (Clinton 53 percent and Giuliani 43 percent).
Sen. Clinton has a sizeable edge over New York Gov. George Pataki (search), outdistancing him by a margin of 59 percent to 36 percent. The two other Republicans tested, Jeanine Pirro and Edward Cox, both of whom are still relative unknowns to many in the state, receive support from about 25 percent of voters.
The poll also asked a generic question about the state's representation in the U.S. Senate. About four in 10 (41 percent) think it would be better for New York to have bipartisan representation in the senate, while an almost equal number — 37 percent — think having both of the state’s senators from the same party is better (the remaining 22 percent are unsure).
Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. conducted the May 15-17 poll of 900 New York State registered voters for FOX News.
One reason for Clinton's lead over potential senate challengers is her positive job approval rating. Almost two-thirds of New York voters (64 percent) approve of the job she’s doing as their senator, 22 percent disapprove.
Gov. Pataki and President George W. Bush receive negative job performance ratings from the state’s voters. Today, 42 percent approve and 48 percent disapprove of the job Pataki is doing as governor. For President Bush, 31 percent approve and 59 percent disapprove.
In the 2004 presidential election, the state backed Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., over President Bush by 58 percent to 41 percent. Even so, when asked if the 2008 presidential election were held today almost half (49 percent) of New York State voters say they would vote for Giuliani over Kerry (42 percent).
Giuliani also has a slight 2-percentage point advantage over Sen. Clinton on presidential vote preference (compared to her 10-point advantage in the Senate race). If the Republican candidate were Arizona Sen. John McCain against Clinton, the state’s voters were sharply divided — 42 percent McCain and 41 percent Clinton, with 17 percent undecided.
"New Yorkers have become very comfortable with Mrs. Clinton as their senator, and she will be very difficult to beat in a re-election race. A race for the presidency, however, is a completely different ballgame and even among her supportive constituents in New York there are some who are not sure she is right for that job," comments Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Research, Inc.
Some interesting shifts happen within demographic groups on the Clinton-Giuliani vote the senate and presidential vote questions. Almost 6 in 10 women support Clinton over Giuliani in the senate race, but that drops to about half in the presidential race; however, Giuliani’s share of the female vote doesn’t increase as a result, but instead the Clinton-defectors move to the “undecided” column.
Similarly, among independents, Clinton’s share of the vote for president is 10 points lower than for senate. Men are about eight points less likely to vote for her for president than for senator.
If specific candidate choices are taken out of the picture, half of New York voters say they want their state overall to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, while 22 percent say the Republican candidate, 18 percent say "it depends," and 10 percent are unsure.
Despite a clear 65 percent majority saying if Sen. Clinton runs for re-election she should also announce her intentions for the 2008 presidential race, over half (54 percent) think it would be "fair to the citizens of New York" if she decided to run for president after being reelected.
"Most state voters would like for Clinton to declare her 2008 intentions ahead of her senate re-election race, but they are savvy enough to understand that she will likely seek the presidency if she wins in 2006," said Coker.
When thinking about top issues, New York voters say they trust Clinton more than Giuliani to handle the economy (50 percent to 40 percent) and social security (51 percent to 37 percent). Giuliani is trusted more to handle terrorism by 54 percent to 30 percent.
About the same number of New York voters think Clinton’s positions on the issues are "too liberal" (30 percent) as think Giuliani’s are "too conservative" (31 percent), though about half of voters see each as having positions on the issues that are "about right."
Clinton and Giuliani are closely matched on some candidate quality measures like being honest and trustworthy and “sharing your values.” Giuliani outdoes Clinton as being "more likeable" (+ 7 percentage points) and has a big advantage on being “tougher” (+ 27 points).
More voters see Clinton and Giuliani favorably than unfavorably. Sixty-two percent have a favorable opinion of Giuliani and 57 percent of Clinton. Even so, former President Bill Clinton tops both of them as 64 percent of New York voters view him favorably and 28 percent unfavorably.
And finally, a "just for fun" question, because sometimes questions like these show more clearly how people feel. The poll asked voters which of the following people they would rather hang out with: Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, or George Pataki.
The former president tops the list with a 41-percent plurality saying they would rather hang out with Bill Clinton, followed by "America’s Mayor" Giuliani at 30 percent. At 18 percent Hillary receives less than half as much support as her husband, and 7 percent pick Pataki as the person they would like to hang out with. Only 3 percent say none of the above.
• PDF: Click here for full poll results.