Democrats Split, Too

A new Pew survey finds that, while John McCain has made some progress in building support among conservative Republicans, a significant number of white Democrats would not vote for Barack Obama. Still, the news overall is good for Democrats.

Party Disharmony:

Pew Survey 2008 Presidential Race Vulnerabilities Even as there are indications McCain is consolidating his support within the Republican base, nearly half of conservative Republicans (46%) say his positions on the issues are not conservative enough. McCain’s image among independent voters has slipped since early February, and currently Obama edges McCain by 49% to 43% among independents in a general election matchup.


Hillary Clinton’s support levels have slipped across the board among Democrats. Clinton leads Obama only among white women voters, those ages 65 and older, and voters with household incomes of less than $30,000 a year.


Although attention has been focused on McCain’s problems with the GOP base, there are indications that some Democrats might defect if Obama is the party’s nominee. Overall, 20% of white TDemocratic voters say they would vote for McCain if Obama is the Democratic nominee. That is twice the percentage of white Democrats who say they would support McCain in a Clinton-McCain matchup. Older Democrats (ages 65 and older), lower-income and less educated Democrats also would support McCain at higher levels if Obama rather than Clinton is the party’s nominee.

McCain Too Old, Obama Too Inexperienced, Clinton Too Untrustworthy: Bad news for all three candidates in the adjective race.

Pew Survey 2008 Presidential Race One Word Candidate Description The three leading presidential candidates have divergent images, which are reflected in the words that voters use to describe Obama, Clinton and McCain. In general, the single words used to describe Obama are very positive, but the word “inexperienced” is used most frequently to describe the Illinois senator. “Experienced” is the word used most often to describe Clinton, with the words “strong” and untrustworthy” also mentioned frequently. For McCain, the word “old” is used most often as a descriptor, far outnumbering mentions of “honest,” “experienced” and “patriot.”

Nearly a third of all voters (32%) believe that, at 71 years old, McCain is too old to be president, while 66% say that being 71 does not make him too old. Opinions about whether McCain is too old to be president are comparable with views about Bob Dole during the 1996 campaign. In March 1996, 34% said Dole, who would have been 73 upon inauguration, was too old, while 63% said he was not.

The perception of inexperience is likely easier to overcome than one of being too old or too corrupt.

McCain Success Tied To Iraq’s: John McCain has frequently vowed that he’d prefer to lose an election than lose a war. It seems that he’ll either win both or lose both.

Pew Survey 2008 Presidential Race Iraq War Progress Perceptions of how things are going in Iraq are strongly correlated with support for McCain, among Republicans, Democrats and independents. For example, in a matchup against Barack Obama, McCain does 31 points better among independents who believe the war is going well than among those who think it is not going well.


The survey finds a marked improvement in perceptions of the situation in Iraq over the past year. As was the case in November, as many people say the military effort there is going well as say it is not going well (48% each). A year ago, negative perceptions of the situation in Iraq outnumbered positive assessments by greater than two-to-one (67% to 30%).

Opinions about progress toward specific objectives, such as defeating the insurgents and reducing civilian casualties, also have become much more positive. In addition, the proportion saying the United States is making progress in preventing a civil war in Iraq has approximately doubled in the past year (from 18% to 35%), though a greater percentage (49%) still says the United States is losing ground in preventing civil war.

Thus, despite a majority thinking the war was a mistake and a significant plurality thinking the Democrats would do a better job of managing the war than the Republicans, an uptick in fortunes (or perceived fortunes) in Iraq is likely McCain’s best chance for victory.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Public Opinion Polls, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Hal says:

    an uptick in fortunes (or perceived fortunes) in Iraq is likely McCain’s best chance for victory.

    What a slender reed to rely upon.

  2. James Joyner says:

    What a slender reed to rely upon.

    Agreed. That’s mostly true, I think, in a McCain-Obama matchup given the contrasts. The twists and turns in a McCain-Clinton contest are even harder to predict.

  3. > Democrats would do a better job of managing the war

    Ah, yes, management by surrender.