Politics

Obama, Clinton Closely Matched as “Change” Candidate

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Most Democrats believe they are committed to change and can bring it about

PRINCETON, NJ -- The most recent USA Today/Gallup poll finds that Democrats are equally likely to believe that Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are committed to changing Washington, and are optimistic that both could bring change about if elected president.

According to the Jan. 10-13 poll, 56% of Democrats (including Democratic-leaning independents) believe Obama is "very committed" to "bringing about real change in Washington," and an additional 32% believe he is "somewhat committed." But Obama has no stranglehold on the change issue, at least among Democrats. Fifty-four percent of Democrats say Clinton is very committed to bringing about real change, and 35% say she is somewhat committed.

The Clinton campaign has tried to make the argument that the desire for change and the ability to bring it about are two different things, implying that Obama would fall short on the latter count. But Democrats do not agree that the less experienced Obama is incapable of delivering the change he is espousing on the campaign trail, as 75% express optimism that he could change Washington, including 23% who are very optimistic. Clinton fares only slightly better, as 79% of Democrats are optimistic that she can bring about change in Washington if elected, including 24% who say they are very optimistic.

Gallup asked this optimism/pessimism question not only of Democrats but of the full sample of Americans. In addition to rating Obama and Clinton, the public was asked to rate Republicans John McCain and Mike Huckabee on this dimension.

Overall, 61% of all Americans (regardless of party affiliation) are optimistic that Obama can change Washington and 57% are optimistic that Clinton can. McCain's numbers fall in between the two, at 59%. Notably, a slim majority of Democrats, 53%, are optimistic that McCain can change Washington.

Of the four leading candidates, Americans are least optimistic about Huckabee's ability to change Washington, with as many saying they are pessimistic (47%) as optimistic (46%) that the former Arkansas governor could change Washington.

Implications

Obama and Clinton -- not to mention third-place John Edwards -- are competing fiercely to be considered the candidate of "change." While in some early exit polls Obama has been faring best among voters who are most interested in change, these data suggest that most Democrats believe Clinton is as committed to changing Washington as Obama, and that Obama is as capable of delivering change as Clinton.

But Americans -- including a slim majority of Democrats -- believe Republican John McCain could change Washington as well.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 2,010 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 10-13, 2008. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±2 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 1,021 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

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.

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