Democrats split on nomination fight, Corzine’s role

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New Jersey Democrats split between the contenders for the Democratic nomination as well as over the consequences of the protracted race. According to the most recent poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama hold the same net advantage over McCain, but draw their support from different constituencies.

In head-to-head match-ups, Clinton bests Senator John McCain 48%-43% and Obama wins by the same five-point margin, 47%-42%.  The difference is that Obama fares better than Clinton among independent voters, running even with McCain among that group. On the other hand, the Democratic base is more united behind the New York Senator, who is supported by 80% of Democrats in a match-up against McCain, nine points better than Obama. Clinton also has the support of 55% of women compared to 46% for Obama in a race against McCain.

Given a choice between all three candidates, Obama gets 35% and McCain 37%, both running well ahead of Clinton (28%). But McCain is also the last choice of 43% of voters, compared with 32% who put Clinton last. Obama is the least objectionable of the candidates, with only 25% making him their last choice. The three-way results again reflect an enormous gender gap: Clinton is narrowly the top choice of women with 36%, but only 18% of men pick her first.

In addition, only 15% of independent voters make Clinton their first choice, while 41% say she is their last choice.  Likewise, Republicans are more united in a race against Clinton than against Obama: 87% would support McCain in a race against Clinton, but 80% choose McCain in a race against Obama.

“New Jersey is reflective of the national race,” said Dan Cassino, a political scientist at Fairleigh Dickinson and a survey analyst for PublicMind. “Clinton is a polarizing figure, getting more support from the Democratic base at the cost of solidifying McCain’s support among Republicans.”

Democrats split on whether the protracted race for the nomination is hurting the party’s chances in November: 51% are “very” or “somewhat” worried, but 48% are “just a little” or “not at all” worried.  Yet two in three Democrats (67%) say that neither candidate should withdraw at this time, while just 17% say that Clinton should withdraw and 10% say that Obama should.

A majority of Democrats (55%), including two-thirds of Clinton supporters, say Clinton and Obama should run together. But they split on who should be President on such a ticket: 44% would place Clinton in the top spot and 42% would put Obama on top.

“That’s why it’s called a dream ticket,” said Cassino. “Democrats would like the race to be over, but don’t want either candidate out.  McCain’s relatively strong showing among Democrats shows that the race is taking a toll.”

If the nomination is decided by Democratic superdelegates, 62% of Democrats are somewhat or very confident the superdelegates will do what is best for the party while 31% are “not very” or “not at all” confident.

The poll also asked about New Jersey’s most prominent superdelegate, Governor Jon Corzine, but only one in three Democrats know that Corzine supports Clinton: 62% don’t know who he supports and 4% percent think he supports Obama.  More than half (54%) of Democrats, including 4 of 5 of those who rate Clinton as their first choice, think Corzine should continue to support Clinton even if Obama has more delegates at the convention.  One-third think he should switch and 13% are not sure.

“Corzine has to be both governor and party leader here. As governor he needs to manage a broad statewide coalition. As party leader, he needs to be clear where he stands,” said Cassino.   “The two roles are not easily compatible.”

New Jersey voters’ views of President Bush and the war in Iraq are dismal: just 18% say that the country is on the right track while 69% say it is on the wrong track. This is statistically indistinguishable from results going as far back as spring 2007. Similarly, Bush’s approval ratings are anemic at 26%, and just 39% say that the war in Iraq is going “very” or “fairly” well.

“Voters’ views of Bush remain tied to the war in Iraq,” said Cassino. “Any candidate wanting to win here, including John McCain, will have to run against Bush’s legacy.”

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 816 registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone from March 24, 2008, through March 30, 2008, and has a margin of error of +/-3.5 percentage points. That figure includes 417 Democratic respondents, for which the margin of error is +/-5 percentage points.

Contact: Peter Woolley 973.670.3239

For more information, please call (973) 443-8661.

Copyright © 2008, Fairleigh Dickinson University. All rights reserved. FDU PublicMind Poll [Latest update 080403]