Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain are the national front-runners for their party’s presidential nominations, according to a FOX News poll released Friday, and Clinton is seen as the candidate most prepared to begin leading the country on "day one."
That’s the good news for Clinton. The bad news for the former first lady is she is also seen as the candidate most likely to "do anything — including something unethical — to win," and most likely to embarrass the country.
This is the first FOX News national poll conducted since Democrats John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich, and Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson dropped out of the race.
In the narrowed field, McCain now leads among Republicans with 48 percent, far outdistancing Mitt Romney at 20 percent and Mike Huckabee at 19 percent. Ron Paul receives 5 percent. The number of undecided voters has dropped from 13 percent in December to 5 percent today.
On the Democratic side, Clinton is still the top choice, although by a much closer margin today. The new poll shows 47 percent of Democrats back Clinton and 37 percent Barack Obama. Last month Clinton had a 29-point advantage — 49 percent to Obama’s 20 percent, with Edwards capturing 10 percent.
Clinton and Obama both essentially tie McCain in hypothetical head-to-head matchups. Among registered voters nationwide, the poll finds that 44 percent back Clinton and 45 percent McCain. Similarly, 44 percent prefer Obama, while 43 percent choose McCain. These results fall within the poll’s margin of sampling error.
Clinton (+14 points) and Obama (+18 points) each have a double-digit advantage over Republican Mitt Romney when tested in two-way matchups.
The national telephone poll was conducted for FOX News by Opinion Dynamics Corp. among 900 registered voters from January 30 to January 31. The poll has a 3-point error margin.
When asked to consider the two front-runners on each side, voters say Clinton (34 percent) is the most prepared to begin leading the country on "day one" of taking office, with McCain (31 percent) right on her heels, Obama third (17 percent) and Romney fourth (8 percent).
By a large margin, Clinton also comes out on top as most likely to "do anything — including something unethical — to win" the election. Some 44 percent think so, compared to 11 percent who think Romney would do anything to win, 9 percent McCain and 8 percent Obama. Nearly a third of voters were unsure (28 percent).
"These results suggest that Clinton still faces the challenge of shedding the image of a politician who puts electoral victory ahead of everything else. Ironically, this negative perception is partly due to her broader image as a competent, take-charge leader who can get things done on ‘day one.’ Her ultimate success may depend on how skillfully she can "un-couple" these two aspects of her image," says Ernest Paicopolos, a principal of Opinion Dynamics.
Even so, equal numbers say they would most want to watch Clinton (25 percent) and Obama (25 percent) on television for the next four years, putting both of them ahead of their Republican rivals; 19 percent say they would most want to watch McCain and 12 percent Romney.
Nearly one of four (36 percent) think Obama is the "most positive" presidential hopeful, followed by Clinton at 22 percent, McCain at 18 percent and Romney at 11 percent.
Which candidate would embarrass the country? More than a third (37 percent) says Clinton is most likely to do something embarrassing; Romney comes in a distant second with 14 percent, McCain at 12 percent and Obama at 11 percent. Twenty-six percent are unsure.
Overall, by a 15-point margin, more voters think Clinton is the Democrat making unfair attacks rather than Obama; among Democrats, the two contenders are seen as about equal on this measure, as 37 percent think Clinton is making unfair attacks and 34 percent think Obama is.
Just over one in four voters think Romney and McCain are playing dirty politics, and 28 percent of Republicans agree.
The Bill Factor
Voters think the recent bickering between Obama and former President Bill Clinton mainly helps Obama (32 percent) and the Republicans (30 percent), while hardly any think it benefits Hillary Clinton (12 percent). Furthermore, a 58 percent majority thinks Hillary Clinton should be responsible for what her husband says and does on the campaign trail.
Overall, opinion is split on whether the Clinton campaign tried to use race as an issue against Obama in the South Carolina Democratic primary: 42 percent say yes but 43 percent disagree. Among Democrats, fewer think so (31 percent); a majority (56 percent) says the Clintons did not use race as an issue.
In a presidential race that includes candidates who could be the first black and the first woman president, voters were asked if it is more difficult for African Americans or for women to get ahead in today’s world. Some 29 percent say it is more difficult for women to get ahead, and nearly as many, 27 percent, say it is tougher for African Americans. Another 25 percent say "both" and 15 percent say "neither."
Women (+9 points) are more likely to say it is more difficult for women to get ahead, and blacks (+13 points) are more likely to say it is more difficult for African Americans.
The economy (30 percent) tops the list of concerns voters will be thinking about when choosing a presidential candidate this year, with Iraq (23 percent) coming in a close second. Democrats pick Iraq (36 percent) and the economy (32 percent) as the most important issues, while Republicans put the economy (26 percent) and terrorism (20 percent) at the top, and Iraq (11 percent) and immigration (11 percent) tied as the third issue.
Overall, a 56 percent majority says their current personal financial situation is either excellent (11 percent) or good (45 percent) and, looking ahead, nearly half (47 percent) think their financial situation will be better next year.
If a tax rebate is part of an economic stimulus package, just over half of Americans say they would spend the money (51 percent), while about a third (36 percent) say they would save it. The results are virtually identical among income groups.