Just over half of Americans believe Sen. Hillary Clinton is prepared to be the first female president of the United States, according to a new FOX News poll. In addition, Clinton is the preferred choice of Democratic voters for their party’s 2008 presidential nominee; on the Republican side, former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani barely edges out Ariz. Sen. John McCain for frontrunner billing.

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News from August 29 to August 30. The poll has a 3-point error margin.

A slim 51-percent majority of voters believes Clinton is prepared to be the first woman president, though a large minority disagrees (43 percent). There are essentially no gender differences, as about the same number of men (49 percent) and women (52 percent) think Clinton is ready.

On the political side, Democrats (75 percent) are three times as likely as Republicans (24 percent), and significantly more likely than independents (50 percent) to think Clinton is prepared for a promotion.

"It is clear that Senator Clinton remains a deeply polarizing figure," comments Opinion Dynamics Chairman John Gorman. "While half the country seems prepared to give her a chance, nearly as many won’t consider her. If she’s in the race in 2008 we can look forward to yet another late night finish, with all the acrimony, suspicion and bitterness that the last two elections have produced."

The poll finds that Clinton far outdistances the other Democrats for the party’s nomination. She receives the backing of 32 percent of self-identified Democrats, down from 43 percent earlier this year (March 14-15). Former Vice President Al Gore (15 percent), Mass. Sen. John Kerry (13 percent) and former Sen. John Edwards (9 percent) round out the top four slots.

As a follow up, Democrats were asked to choose between just Clinton and Gore — and Clinton wins this matchup by a wide 53 percent to 34 percent margin. Independent voters also say they would pick Clinton (39 percent) over Gore (26 percent).

In the Republican primary question, Giuliani (27 percent) edges McCain (25 percent) for the leader spot, with the only other candidate to receive double-digit support being former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (14 percent).

If there were only two choices, Republicans say they would choose Giuliani (46 percent) over McCain (36 percent). Among independents, McCain (46 percent) bests Giuliani (29 percent).

By a slim 6-point margin, voters who supported President George W. Bush in the 2004 election say they would back Giuliani (43 percent) over McCain (37 percent).

2008 Head-to-Head Matchups

Is it too early to think about the 2008 presidential race? Even if it is — it’s fun. On this most recent poll, voters were asked about four hypothetical races.

Overall, the results show that if the election were held today, both Giuliani and McCain would have the advantage over Clinton and Gore, though McCain performs slightly better against the Democrats.

Results and past trend are below:

Hypothetical 2008 Vote Matchups

Aug. May Aug. May
Clinton 39% 42% Gore 40% 36%
McCain 47% 46% McCain 47% 48%
Clinton 42% 40% Gore 42% 37%
Giuliani 46% 49% Giuliani 46% 50%

"It is notable that Al Gore has gained against both Republican candidates," observes Gorman. "Given how far away the elections are and the likely impact of truly brutal primary races, these numbers suggest Gore may have a slightly greater chance of closing the gap than the more polarizing Clinton."

PDF: Click here for full poll results