Democrats Prefer Clinton Over Rivals On Most Policy Issues

by Lydia Saad

However, ratings suggest possible bias against having a woman in the commander-in-chief role

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Sen. Hillary Clinton, who currently leads the Democratic race for the 2008 presidential nomination by more than 20 percentage points in a USAToday/Gallup poll, is also chosen by Democrats (including Democratic-leaning independents) as the candidate best able to handle many national issues. In fact, according to the latest Gallup Panel survey, Democrats perceive Clinton as the best prepared of the top three Democratic contenders to handle 13 of 17 different challenges that could face the next president.

While Clinton dominates on core policy issues, Sen. Barack Obama does relatively well on the handful of items included that tap into the candidates' ability to relate to people and heal divisions in the country. Democrats do not consider former Sen. John Edwards the best candidate on any issue.

Clinton Walks Away With Top Policy Issues

When given the choice of the top three Democratic candidates -- including Clinton, Obama, and Edwards -- an outright majority of Democrats say Clinton would do the best job on 6 out of 17 issues measured in the poll. This includes some of the major domestic policy issues that Americans typically rate among the most important to their vote for federal offices: healthcare, the economy, and education. It also includes two of the leading values issues in today's culture: abortion and gay marriage.

Candidate Perceived as Doing Best Job on Issue as President
(Issues on Which Clinton is Preferred by a Majority)

Based on Democrats/Democratic Leaners

Clinton

Obama

Edwards

%

%

%

Healthcare

65

14

17

Abortion

61

14

11

The economy

60

16

19

Education

58

21

16

Relations with other countries

54

28

14

Gay marriage

51

19

13

Clinton is preferred by a solid plurality of Democrats on an additional seven issues. Among these are terrorism and the situation in Iraq. She also holds solid leads on taxes, energy, and crime, and somewhat smaller leads on immigration and being commander-in-chief of the military.

Candidate Perceived as Doing Best Job on Issue as President
(Issues on Which Clinton is Preferred by a Plurality)

Based on Democrats/Democratic Leaners

Clinton

Obama

Edwards

%

%

%

Terrorism

49

26

17

Taxes

48

25

20

The situation in Iraq

47

31

17

Energy and the environment

43

23

26

Crime

43

31

17

Immigration

39

31

18

Being commander-in-chief of the military 

38

28

28

Obama's Strength Is on the Personal Dimension

A majority of Democrats prefer Obama on only one issue: race relations. He also leads Clinton and Edwards with a sizeable plurality as the candidate best able to inspire Americans.

Candidate Perceived as Doing Best Job on Issue as President
(Issues on Which Obama is Preferred by a Majority or Plurality)

Based on Democrats/Democratic Leaners

Clinton

Obama

Edwards

%

%

%

Race relations

30

58

8

Inspiring Americans

34

44

17

While being inspiring could be a valuable asset to a candidate, particularly as campaigning picks up closer to the first primaries, Obama's existing lead in that area is evidently not enough to compensate for Clinton's overwhelming advantage on policy issues. Otherwise, he might not be trailing Clinton by as much as 22 points in Gallup's latest trial heat.

Obama's image as someone who can move people is also evident in his relatively strong scores for healing political divisions in the country; he edges out Clinton by a statistically non-significant 3 points on this item. Obama also ties Clinton as the candidate most likely to be perceived as "reforming the way the government in Washington works" -- something that could require as much interpersonal as political skill. (Reform has been a focal point of the Obama campaign, so the fact that he only ties Clinton among Democrats on the issue is notable.)

Candidate Perceived as Doing Best Job on Issue as President
(Issues on Which Obama is Preferred by a Majority or Plurality)

Based on Democrats/Democratic Leaners

Clinton

Obama

Edwards

%

%

%

Reforming the way the government in Washington works

38

37

18

Healing political divisions in the country

34

37

23

Edwards Is Shut Out

Edwards, currently in third place for the Democratic nomination, is shut out of contention for top billing on all of the 17 issues.

Notably, Edwards receives his highest score -- 28% -- for being commander-in-chief of the military. This is much higher than his average score of 18% for all 17 issues.

Candidate Perceived as Doing Best Job on Issue as President
(Ranked by Percentage Naming Edwards)

Based on Democrats/Democratic Leaners

Clinton

Obama

Edwards

%

%

%

Being commander-in-chief of the military 

38

28

28

Energy and the environment

43

23

26

Healing political divisions in the country

34

37

23

Taxes

48

25

20

The economy

60

16

19

Immigration

39

31

18

Reforming the way the government in Washington works

38

37

18

Healthcare

65

14

17

Terrorism

49

26

17

The situation in Iraq

47

31

17

Crime

43

31

17

Inspiring Americans

34

44

17

Education

58

21

16

Relations with other countries

54

28

14

Gay marriage

51

19

13

Abortion

61

14

11

Race relations

30

58

8

Average

47

28

18

The fact that Edwards receives his highest rating on the commander-in-chief dimension could say more about what Democrats think of Clinton and Obama on this issue, than what they think of Edwards.

Why?

  1. Clinton could be underperforming on the commander-in-chief item because she is a woman. This is suggested by the fact that she is much more widely chosen for "handling relations with other countries" than for being "commander-in-chief of the military": 54% vs. 38%.
  2. Obama may not be the perfect commander-in-chief alternative to Clinton for the Democrats. He went on record this summer saying that, as president, he would consider a unilateral invasion of Pakistan to root out terrorists, and promised to engage in diplomacy talks with the leaders of nations hostile to the United States. This earned Obama considerable criticism from his Democratic rivals, and may explain Clinton's expanded lead in Gallup's trial heat polls in the past two months. (See "Clinton Bounds Further Ahead in Democratic Contest" in Related Items.)
  1. Indeed, the percentage choosing Obama as best able to handle relations with other countries fell by five points between January 2007 and today.

  1. As a result of these potential liabilities for Clinton and Obama, some Democrats could be naming Edwards as their preferred choice for commander-in-chief by default.

Bottom Line

Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, a strong lead in the polls virtually guarantees that the front-runner in an election will outpace his or her competitors on the micro level, as well. That is evident for Clinton in Gallup's recent subgroup analysis of the Democratic primary race, which shows her leading among every major subgroup of Democrats. (See "Clinton Leads Among Every Major Subgroup of Democrats" in Related Items.)

The fact that Clinton does relatively worse on the personal dimensions tested in this poll -- for being inspiring and healing divisions in the country -- raises the question of her broader personal appeal. When Gallup last asked Democrats which candidate they preferred on the issues, in January 2007, a parallel question was asked comparing the candidates on personal qualities that might be desirable in a president. In that poll, at a time when Clinton led Obama by a smaller margin than she does today, her ratings on personal qualities were highly mixed: She prevailed on leadership items such as being a strong leader, managing the government, and performing well in a crisis, but as seen in the current poll, she did worse on interpersonal dimensions. A forthcoming Gallup update of this measure will help clarify the extent to which her image continues to be divided along these lines.

Survey Methods

Results for this panel study are based on telephone interviews with 1,006 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 24-27, 2007. Respondents were randomly drawn from Gallup's nationally representative household panel, which was originally recruited through random selection methods. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ¬Ī3 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 537 Democrats or Democratic leaners, the maximum margin of sampling error is ¬Ī5 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

12. (Asked of Democrats and independents who lean to the Democratic Party) Now, turning to the issues, if you had to choose, which candidate do you think would do the best job on [RANDOM ORDER] as president -- [ROTATED: Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, (or) Barack Obama]?
BASED ON --537-- DEMOCRATS AND DEMOCRATIC LEANERS

Full Results and Trends :

A. Terrorism

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Sep 24-27

49

17

26

7

 

 

 

 

2007 Jan 25-28

49

21

23

7

B. The economy

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Sep 24-27

60

19

16

5

 

 

 

 

2007 Jan 25-28

57

19

19

5

C. The situation in Iraq

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Sep 24-27

47

17

31

5

 

 

 

 

2007 Jan 25-28

47

19

26

9

D. Education

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Sep 24-27

58

16

21

5

 

 

 

 

2007 Jan 25-28

63

10

24

3

E. Healthcare

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Sep 24-27

65

17

14

5

 

 

 

 

2007 Jan 25-28

67

13

17

3

F. Gay marriage

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

 

 

 

 

2007 Sep 24-27

51%

13

19

17

G. Taxes

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Sep 24-27

48

20

25

7

 

 

 

 

2007 Jan 25-28

44

23

27

7

H. Relations with other countries

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Sep 24-27

54

14

28

4

 

 

 

 

2007 Jan 25-28

45

19

33

3

I. Energy and the environment

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Sep 24-27

43

26

23

8

 

 

 

 

2007 Jan 25-28

52

21

21

6

J. Crime

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Sep 24-27

43

17

31

9

 

 

 

 

2007 Jan 25-28

42

21

28

9

K. Immigration

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

 

 

 

 

2007 Sep 24-27

39%

18

31

12

L. Reforming the way the government in Washington works

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

 

 

 

 

2007 Sep 24-27

38%

18

37

7

M. Being commander-in-chief of the military 

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

 

 

 

 

2007 Sep 24-27

38%

28

28

6

N. Race relations

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

 

 

 

 

2007 Sep 24-27

30%

8

58

4

O. Abortion

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

 

 

 

 

2007 Sep 24-27

61%

11

14

14

P. Healing political divisions in the country

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

 

 

 

 

2007 Sep 24-27

34%

23

37

6

Q. Inspiring Americans

Clinton

Edwards

Obama

No opinion

 

 

 

 

2007 Sep 24-27

34%

17

44

5

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