Democrats lead poll in race for president
By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
Los Angeles Times
By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
WASHINGTON — Although Democrats are tangled in a fractious presidential primary, either Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama probably would beat presumptive Republican nominee John McCain in the popular vote if the election were held now, according to a nationwide poll.
McCain remains competitive, but a Los Angeles Times/ Bloomberg poll released yesterday identified one important vulnerability: Voters rank him lowest among the three candidates on who could best handle the nation's economic problems — by far the most pressing concern for the public, irrespective of party, gender or income.
Of the three main candidates, Clinton inspired the most confidence on the economy, even though she appears unlikely to win the Democratic nomination.
In a hypothetical matchup between Clinton and McCain, the New York senator led the Arizonan by 47 percent to 38 percent, with 11 percent saying they were undecided.
In a contest between Obama and McCain, the poll gave the Illinois senator a 46 percent to 40 percent lead over the Republican, with 9 percent undecided.
The results represent a shift from a Times/Bloomberg poll in February, in which McCain led Clinton by 6 percentage points and Obama by 2. The direction has changed in favor of the Democrats.
"Although there is such infighting now between the two Democratic candidates, we are finding that both Democrats are beating McCain, and this could be attributed to the weakening of the economy," said the Times' Susan Pinkus, who supervised the survey.
For example, among the 78 percent of voters who said they believe the economy has slid into a recession, 52 percent would vote for Obama, compared with 32 percent for McCain.
A matchup between Clinton and McCain showed nearly identical results.
The poll was based on telephone interviews with 2,208 adults nationwide — 1,986 of them registered voters — from May 1 to 8. That time period included several days before and after the recent Democratic primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, which Clinton and Obama split.
The poll offered fresh insights for Democrats trying to discern whether Obama or Clinton would best represent their party against McCain.
For example, Clinton and McCain were essentially tied among voters ages 65 or older. But if the race were between Obama and McCain, the Republican would lead in that demographic, 47 percent to 41 percent.
Among people ages 18 to 44, Obama led McCain by 55 percent to 35 percent. Clinton generated less enthusiasm with this age group, leading McCain 48 percent to 35 percent.
Blacks would vote overwhelmingly for Obama. In the poll, he carried 79 percent of blacks, with 3 percent supporting McCain.
If Clinton were the Democratic nominee, McCain's share of the black vote would rise to 9 percent, roughly in line with the performance of past GOP presidential candidates. Clinton had 60 percent of the black vote, with 23 percent of respondents in this cornerstone Democratic constituency saying they are undecided.
Among baby boomers, the post-World War II generation that will begin to reach retirement age in the next president's term, both Democrats edged McCain, with Clinton leading 47 percent to 39 percent and Obama by 45 percent to 37 percent. Whoever is elected will have to deal with the serious financial shortfalls facing Medicare and Social Security.
'WRONG TRACK' GLOOM
"The right direction/wrong track question sets the stage for the pessimistic and gloomy view about the economy," Pinkus said. "The last time we had 'wrong track' in the 70 percent range was back in 1992."
That was the year then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton won the Democratic presidential nomination and went on to defeat the incumbent president, George H.W. Bush, on the heels of a recession that lasted from 1990 to 1991.
Regardless of their choice for president, voters judged Hillary Clinton to be the most capable of the three candidates when it comes to dealing with economic problems.
She garnered 32 percent, compared with 26 percent for Obama and 23 percent for McCain.
The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.