NEW YORK – Overall, majorities of Americans see the front-runners in the 2008 race as qualified to be president, though slightly more see New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Arizona Sen. John McCain as "very qualified," according to the latest FOX News Poll.
In addition, the poll finds that most voters think the United States is ready to elect a woman president, a black president, and a twice-divorced candidate, but not ready for a Mormon, a gay or lesbian president, or a president from third party.
Opinion Dynamics Corp. conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News from February 27 to February 28. The poll has a 3-point error margin.
Nearly four of 10 voters (37 percent) think Clinton is "very qualified" to be president, slightly more than the 34 percent that say the same of McCain and the 30 percent for current Republican favorite, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Nearly twice as many think Clinton is "very qualified" as think her main Democratic rival — Illinois Sen. Barack Obama — is ready for the nation’s top job (18 percent).
On the flip side, it’s interesting to note that Clinton also leads at the other end of the spectrum by having the highest number that says she is "not at all qualified."
When those saying "very" and "somewhat" qualified are combined, McCain (70 percent) and Giuliani (68 percent) both have a narrow edge over Clinton (65 percent). About half of voters (52 percent) say Obama is at least somewhat qualified to be president.
"While it is still too early to say anything with certainty, both parties seem to have an ample number of candidates who pass the basic test of being seen as qualified," comments Opinion Dynamics Chairman John Gorman. "As opposed to previous years when candidates often didn’t pass the basic qualifications test or simply weren’t known until their conventions, this cycle the parties have people the public knows right from the start."
When it comes to electing the nation’s leader, do Americans see themselves as equal opportunity employers? Yes, and no.
Clear majorities say yes, they think the United States is ready to elect an African-American president (69 percent), a candidate who has been divorced more than once (65 percent) and a female president (60 percent).
Yet, fully 82 percent say they do not think the country is ready to elect a gay or lesbian to the White House, while a 59 percent majority rejects the idea of electing a third-party candidate.
And while a sizable number (40 percent) accepts electing a Mormon to the nation’s highest office, more Americans — nearly half — disagree (48 percent).
The nomination race has tightened among the Democratic contenders. In the last month Clinton has slipped 9 percentage points and Obama has gained 8 points. The reason for the shift is tied to Obama’s dramatically improved standing among black voters - narrowing Clinton’s previous edge of 30 points to 11 points today.
Overall, Clinton still has the advantage, receiving the support of 34 percent of self-identified Democrats, compared with 23 percent for Obama, 14 percent for former Vice President Al Gore and 12 percent for former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.
When Gore is taken out of the mix, Clinton’s edge over Obama increases by 3 points (40 percent to 26 percent).
On the Republican side, Giuliani has once again widened his lead over McCain. Today, Giuliani has a 20-point edge, garnering the support of 39 percent of self-identified Republicans to McCain’s 19 percent. A month ago, Giuliani topped McCain by 12 points (January 30-31).
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who says he will decide whether to enter the race later in the year, comes in third with 7 percent, and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney receives the backing of 6 percent.
Without Gingrich in the race, Giuliani tops McCain by 43 percent to 19 percent.
Voters agree with the "America’s Mayor" nickname that Giuliani was tagged with after 9/11.
A 65 percent majority thinks that moniker is a good description of Giuliani, including not only 79 percent of Republicans, but also 62 percent of independents and 55 percent of Democrats.
The presidential campaigns can undoubtedly get rough, and while the candidates may get down right nasty, voters think it crosses the line when spouses get dragged into it. Just over half of Americans (52 percent) think the candidates’ spouses should be "off limits," topping those who say that spouses are "fair game" in the campaign (39 percent).
Sometimes the candidate brings his or her spouse into the picture, as Hillary Clinton did during a recent campaign stop when she said her husband, former President Bill Clinton, is the "most popular person in the world right now." The poll shows that most Americans — 65 percent — disagree with her assessment of the former president, including half of Democrats.