Race and Gender Complicate Democratic field

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Tabular Results
Survey Details
Democratic Response

As the candidates line up to replace him, President Bush's approval numbers are at rock bottom. According to the latest results from Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind poll: only 33% of New Jersey voters approve of the job he is doing; only 22% think the country is on the right track; just 29% say going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do; and just 27% say the war is going “very well” or “fairly well.” On the other side of the ledger, 61% disapprove of the job the president is doing, 65% say the country is on the wrong track, 66% say going into Iraq was a mistake, and 68% say the US military effort in Iraq is not going well.

But the Democratic presidential campaigns may be complicated by race and gender, with former North Carolina Senator John Edwards receiving the support of some voters seemingly uncomfortable with the Democratic frontrunners.

Among New Jersey Democrats, New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton leads by a wide margin, with 46% against just 18% for her closest rival, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, while Edwards runs third with 10%.  Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd and Dennis Kucinich attract less than 5% each. Clinton, Obama and Edwards have widespread name recognition, and all three enjoy extremely high favorability ratings of around 70 percent among Democrats. Both name recognition and favorable opinion drop off quickly for the remainder of the Democratic field.

“There's a clear division in these numbers between the frontrunners and the rest of the pack,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and survey analyst for PublicMind. “Clinton, Obama, and Edwards are well-known and well-liked, something that our more local candidates – Chris Dodd and Joe Biden – can't say.”

However, because there has been some question about the effect gender and race might have on the contest, the survey included a design to measure the potential effects of identity politics. Results show that priming respondents to think about either race or gender led to a significant decrease in support for Clinton: priming respondents with gender reduced her support by 13 points, and bringing up race reduced her support by 16 points.  Respondents who were not primed with questions about race or gender – i.e. made to think about race or gender – gave Clinton a commanding lead, 38 points ahead of Obama, with Edwards, Biden and Richardson all statistically tied for third place. Obama's support was not affected by any of the priming questions. The beneficiary of Clinton's losses appears to be John Edwards, whose support increased by about 7 points after race or gender was mentioned.

“People aren't willing to admit that they take a candidate's race or gender into account when deciding who to vote for – but they do,” said Cassino. “These results suggest that the introduction of race and gender into the campaign may move some voters away from Hillary to a white man they think can win: Edwards.”

In the race for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, former New York City mayor Giuliani leads Arizona Senator John McCain by a margin of 3 to 1, 59% to 20%. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney comes in a distant third with just 6%. No other Republican – Tommy Thompson, Sam Brownback, Jim Gilmore or Mike Huckabee – receives more than 2%.

“Giuliani's lead here is no surprise, given his post September 11 popularity in the tri-state area. The question is whether he can hold on to his popularity when the race starts to heat up and conservative voters learn more about him,” said Cassino.

Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind poll of 800 randomly selected registered voters statewide was conducted from February 27 through March 4 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.


Peter Woolley 973.670.3239; Dan Cassino 973.896.7072; Krista Jenkins 973 443 8390

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Copyright © 2007, Fairleigh Dickinson University. All rights reserved. FDU PublicMind Poll [Latest update 070308]