Summary of Findings

The Republican nomination contest is being increasingly shaped by ideology and religion as it moves toward the Super Tuesday states on Feb. 5. John McCain has moved out to a solid lead nationally, increasing his support among Republican and GOP-leaning voters from 22% in late December to 29% currently. Mike Huckabee, at 20%, and Mitt Romney, with 17%, trail McCain. Rudy Giuliani is a distant fourth, polling just 13%. Giuliani’s support has declined seven points since late December.

McCain’s gains over this period have come almost entirely from moderate and liberal Republicans, among whom he now holds a two-to-one lead over his rivals.

The preferences of conservative Republicans are split along religious lines. Huckabee leads the field among conservative evangelicals, drawing 33% to 25% for McCain and just 12% for Romney. In the poll, conducted before the Michigan primary, Romney leads McCain and far outdistances Huckabee — and the rest of the GOP field — among non-evangelical conservative Republicans.

Giuliani’s support among Republicans, as well as his personal image, has declined sharply in recent months. Currently, 13% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters support Giuliani, down from 26% in November. Favorable opinions of Giuliani also have eroded. In August, just 15% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters expressed an unfavorable opinion of Giuliani; that number nearly doubled in December (to 28%), and has risen to 36% in the current survey.

The Democratic nomination contest is being affected by different dynamics than the GOP race — class, race and gender — though ideology is a factor among the Democrats as well. Overall, Clinton leads Obama by 46% to 31%, with 13% for John Edwards. In late December, Clinton’s lead over Obama was 20 points (46%-26%).

Obama has made substantial gains among higher-income Democratic voters. Currently, he leads Clinton by 44%-35% among Democratic voters with household incomes of at least $75,000 a year. In December, he trailed Clinton among Democratic voters in this group by 35%-31%. Clinton continues to hold a commanding lead among less well-off Democrats.

Obama now runs even with Clinton among liberals; he trailed by more than 20 points among liberals in late December (49% Clinton vs. 27% Obama). He also has made gains among African Americans and now holds a 52%-33% lead among black Democrats.

To voters, gender is being viewed as more of an issue for Clinton than race is for Obama. Roughly four-in-ten Democratic voters (43%), including comparable proportions of men and women, say that Clinton is being held to higher standard because she is a woman. Just a quarter of Democrats (25%) say Obama is being held to a higher standard because he is black; about a third of black Democrats (32%) believe Obama is being held to a higher standard because of his race, compared with 23% of whites.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Jan. 9-13 among 1,515 adults, finds that the early primaries have had a decided impact on how voters in each party view which candidate has the best chance of winning the general election (this survey was conducted before the Jan.15 Michigan primary).

More than twice as many Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters say Obama has the best chance of winning than did so in November (35% now vs. 14% then). Clinton’s advantage in electability now stands at a modest 46%-35%; two months ago, she held a 59%-14% advantage.

The shifts in Republican voters’ views about candidate electability are even more striking. McCain is now clearly seen as the GOP candidate with the best chance of winning the general election; 42% believe he has the best chance of beating the Democratic nominee, compared with 16% in November. Giuliani’s once sizable advantage in electability has disappeared over the past two months.

The Democratic Race

Clinton’s standing among Democratic voters nationally has changed very little in recent months, even after her defeat in Iowa and comeback victory in New Hampshire. She currently draws 46% of the vote, which is virtually unchanged from December and November.

Obama’s support is up modestly from late December, shortly before the Iowa and New Hampshire contests. Currently, he garners 31% of the vote, up from 26% in December and 23% in November. Edwards’ national support has been largely unchanged through this period.

Currently, about half of women Democratic voters (49%) support Clinton, compared with 28% who back Obama. Among men, the race is much closer: 41% favor Clinton and 36% back Obama. Obama has gained seven points among men since December.

The largest gender gaps are among younger people, conservative and moderate Democrats, and those with lower incomes and less education. Clinton leads Obama among younger women (those under age 50) by a 49%-32% margin; but among men in the same age group, she trails Obama by 44%-35%. There are only modest gender differences among people ages 50 and older.

Clinton also holds a sizable lead (59%-22%) among conservative and moderate women; but among men in this group the race is even. Among liberals, by contrast, Obama does better among women, while Clinton fares better among men.

The gender gap is fairly small among college graduates. However, among those who have not attended college, 57% of women favor Clinton compared with 45% of men. There is no gender gap among people in households with annual incomes of greater than $50,000; among lower-income Democrats, Clinton draws much greater support among women than among men (57% vs. 44%).

Gender and Race

Both Democratic and Republican voters see gender as a more important factor than race in the Democratic nomination. More voters say that Hillary Clinton is being held to a higher standard because she is a woman than say Barack Obama is being held to a higher standard because of his race. Voters are also more likely to say that Clinton’s gender will hurt her more than Obama’s race will hurt him.

About four-in-ten Democratic voters (43%) say that Hillary Clinton is being held to a higher standard than other candidates because she is a woman. Far fewer Democrats (25%) believe Obama is being held to a higher standard because of his race. Republicans are less likely than Democrats to say that either Clinton or Obama is being held to higher standard because of their gender or race; however, twice as many Republicans see Clinton being held to a higher standard than say that about Obama.

Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters, men and women (and whites and African Americans) are about equally likely to believe that Clinton is being held to a higher standard. Somewhat more Republican women than GOP men say that Clinton is held to a higher standard (27% vs. 18%).

Black Democrats more often than white Democrats see race as a negative factor in evaluations of Obama: 32% say he is being held to a higher standard because he is African-American; 23% of white Democrats say this.

Democratic and Republican voters hold similar opinions about whether race and gender will ultimately help or hurt the Democratic candidates. For voters in both parties, the candidates’ backgrounds — Clinton’s involvement in her husband’s administration and Obama’s status as a relative newcomer to national politics — are viewed as having a greater impact on voters’ decisions.

Roughly a third of Democratic voters (34%), and about the same percentage of Republicans (35%), believe that if Clinton is the Democratic nominee, the fact that she is a woman will hurt her candidacy. Far more believe she will either be helped by her gender or it will make no difference. Clinton’s involvement in Bill Clinton’s administration is seen as a more important factor — 53% of Democrats say it will help her, while 46% of Republicans say it will hurt.
Fewer voters believe that Obama’s race will have a negative impact on his candidacy: 29% of Democrats and 22% of Republicans believe that if Obama is the Democratic nominee, his race will hurt him. Black and white Democrats do not differ in their opinions; roughly three-in-ten in each group say he will be hurt, while two-in-ten say he will be helped.

For both Democrats and Republicans, Obama’s limited experience in national politics is viewed as a bigger factor than his race. More than four-in-ten Democrats (44%), and 52% of Republicans, believe that Obama being relatively new to national politics will hurt him with voters.

The Republican Race

In late December, McCain, Giuliani and Huckabee had comparable levels of support nationally: McCain drew 22%, Giuliani 20% and Huckabee 17%.

McCain is now the national frontrunner at 29%, followed by Huckabee (20%) and Romney (17%). Despite winning neither of the early contests, Romney’s support nationwide has risen five points since late December.

Fred Thompson draws the same low level of support that he did in late December (9%). In September, shortly after he announced his candidacy, Thompson had 22% of the GOP vote and ran second to Giuliani in the national survey.

Religion continues to be a major factor in the GOP contest. Huckabee holds a slim lead among white evangelical Protestants (34% vs. 27% for McCain), while McCain holds a substantial lead among white mainline Protestants, as well as among white Catholics.

Among white Republican mainline Protestants, McCain leads by 29% to 17% over Giuliani; he nearly doubles the support of Romney and Giuliani, his next closest competitors, among white Catholics (41% McCain vs. 21% Romney, 20% Giuliani).

Despite his declining support, Giuliani has held on to some of his support in the states with primaries and caucuses between Jan. 29 and Feb. 5. When these 22 states are analyzed together, 17% back Giuliani, only slightly behind Romney (18%), Huckabee (20%) and McCain (25%). McCain’s lead over the rest of the field is far stronger in the states with primaries later on the calendar.

Candidate Ideology

As Republican voters look at the field of candidates running for their party’s nomination, they see substantial ideological differences. Rudy Giuliani is perceived to be far more moderate than other leading candidates. Just 38% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters describe Giuliani as “conservative,” while 40% say he is “moderate” and 22% describe him as “liberal.” By comparison, 50% of Republicans say John McCain is conservative, and roughly two-thirds describe both Mitt Romney (68%) and Mike Huckabee (65%) as conservative.

In this regard, both Romney and Huckabee come closer to how Republican voters describe themselves: 66% of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters think of themselves as conservative, while 29% say they are moderate and just 4% say they are liberal.

Many Democratic voters also see ideological differences between Clinton and Obama. Nearly half of Democrats (47%) describe Barack Obama as “liberal,” compared with 38% who say the same about Hillary Clinton. And 29% think Clinton is “conservative,” compared with 19% who say Obama is conservative. Clinton’s average rating is somewhat more conservative, and Obama’s is somewhat more liberal, than where Democratic voters typically place themselves. About a third of Democrats (34%) describe themselves as liberal, 44% as moderate, and 22% as conservative.

Republicans see both Clinton and Obama as far more liberal candidates than do Democrats. And also unlike Democrats, Republicans see Clinton as the more liberal of the two. Eight-in-ten Republican voters (81%) describe Clinton as liberal, with 42% saying that she is “very liberal”. Obama is also thought of as a liberal candidate by most Republicans (70%), but substantially fewer describe him as “very liberal” compared with Clinton (24%).

While perceptions of Clinton and Obama are starkly different across party lines, the leading GOP candidates look more similar to both groups of voters. In general, Democratic voters give roughly the same ideological ratings to McCain, Huckabee and Romney as do Republican voters.

Candidate Favorability: The Republicans

While Giuliani’s popularity continues to decline among his own party’s voters, the images of McCain and Huckabee have improved. About seven-in-ten Republican voters (71%) now express a favorable opinion of McCain, up from 65% last month. And while as many Republicans offer positive ratings of Huckabee as rate Giuliani favorably (57%), the former Arkansas governor receives considerably better marks now than he did in December 2007, when fewer than half of Republican voters had a favorable opinion (47%).

Views of Mitt Romney have improved somewhat. More Republicans now offer an opinion of Romney, and just over half of Republican voters (55%) have a positive opinion, a modest increase from last month (49%).

McCain Popular Among Key GOP Groups

McCain receives solid favorable ratings from all key groups of Republican voters. Republican-leaning independents offer nearly identical ratings of McCain as do those who identify as Republicans. Fully two-thirds of conservative white evangelical Protestant GOP voters have a favorable view of McCain, as do nearly three-quarters of other conservatives (72%), and moderate and liberal Republicans (74%). McCain also receives virtually identical ratings from younger and older voters, men and women, and voters of different educational backgrounds.

Views of the other leading GOP candidates are not as uniformly positive. Seven-in-ten conservative white evangelical Protestants (70%) have a favorable impression of Huckabee, but smaller majorities of other conservatives (55%) and moderates and liberals (52%) share that view. Nearly three-in-ten (28%) conservative Republicans who are not white evangelicals offer an unfavorable opinion of Huckabee.

By contrast, Mitt Romney’s best ratings come from conservative Republican voters who are not white evangelicals; about two-thirds in this group (66%) offer a positive view of him. On the other hand, just over half (51%) of white evangelical conservatives rate him favorably, while three-in-ten have an unfavorable view.

Romney is even less popular among moderate and liberal Republican voters; fewer than half in that group (43%) have a positive opinion of the former Massachusetts governor, and nearly as many have a negative opinion (39%).

Views of Giuliani are the most mixed. Sizable minorities in all key groups give Giuliani unfavorable ratings, including about four-in-ten white evangelical conservatives and moderates and liberals. Even among non-evangelical conservatives, Giuliani’s strongest group, nearly three-in-ten (29%) have a negative opinion of him.

Huckabee supporters offer the most negative ratings of other leading GOP candidates. More than half of those who say they are voting for Huckabee rate Giuliani unfavorably (54%), and more express a negative view of Romney (45%) than express a positive view (36%).

The Democratic Field

Views of the leading Democratic candidates have not changed significantly since before the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. Hillary Clinton is evaluated favorably by nearly eight-in-ten Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters (79%), while nearly three-quarters (73%) express positive opinions of Barack Obama.

John Edwards receives considerably lower marks than do Clinton and Obama; six-in-ten have a positive opinion of the former North Carolina senator, while about a quarter (26%) have a negative view.

Solid majorities of Democratic voters in all key groups express favorable views of Clinton, but she is especially popular among blacks (87%), women (83%) and liberals (85%).

Obama is also highly popular among most groups, especially among college graduates (88% favorable) and liberals (87%). Conservative Democrats, however, rate Obama much less favorably than they rate Clinton. Seven-in-ten conservative Democrats have a positive opinion of Clinton, while just over half (54%) have a positive view of Obama. Just half of conservative Democrats (50%) view Edwards favorably.

Clinton supporters rate Obama and Edwards somewhat less favorably than their supporters rate her. Two-thirds of Democrats who support Obama for the party’s nomination and 60% of those who support Edwards have a positive opinion of Clinton. By contrast, just 57% of Clinton supporters have positive views of Obama and even fewer (47%) have a favorable impression of Edwards.

Independents View the Candidates

Strong majorities of independent voters express positive views of John McCain (64%) and Barack Obama (62%). No other candidate is viewed favorably by a majority of independent voters.

Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton receive the highest unfavorable ratings. Fully half of independent voters rate Giuliani negatively and about the same number has an unfavorable view of Clinton (48%).

Like Clinton, Huckabee receives mixed ratings among independents, though he is not as well known as Clinton. About as many independent voters have an unfavorable impression of Huckabee as a favorable one (40% vs. 36%).

Views of Bloomberg

Amid speculation that Michael Bloomberg may run for president, the survey shows that large minorities of Republican, Democratic and independent voters have negative views of the New York City mayor; about as many are not familiar enough with Bloomberg to offer a rating.

Bloomberg is especially unpopular among Democrats. More than four-in-ten (44%) view him unfavorably, compared with 39% of Republicans and 38% of independents. Republicans and independents are also less familiar with Bloomberg. About half of Republican voters (48%) could not offer a rating.

‘Change’ Seen as Most Important

As was the case in Iowa and New Hampshire, change has become a major theme of the national primary campaign. Overall, more than a third of voters (35%) rate the ability to bring about needed change as the most important candidate quality, followed by saying what the candidate believes (24%), having the best experience (19%), and caring about average people (15%).

Roughly four-in-ten Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters (41%) view the ability to effect change as the most important candidate quality — more than double the percentage naming any other trait. Among Democratic voters, liberals (at 51%) are the most likely to view change as most important.

Among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, change is not valued as highly as a candidate quality. For about a third (32%), a candidate saying what they believe is most important, while 27% see the ability to bring needed change as most important.

There is greater agreement among Democrats and Republicans about the kind of change they would most like to see in Washington. A plurality of both Democratic voters (37%) and Republican voters (43%) say that getting the two major parties to work together is most important. Smaller numbers in each party view reducing the influence of money and special interests, or changing foreign and domestic policies as most important.

Voters Mostly Satisfied With Their Choices

In the wake of the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, both Democratic and Republican voters have become increasingly satisfied with the quality of candidates running for their parties’ nominations. Currently, 78% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters say they have an excellent or good impression of the candidates running in their party, and 28% describe the field as excellent. This is up from 67% expressing satisfaction in November.

Republican and Republican-leaning voters remain somewhat less satisfied than Democrats with the choices available to them, though their views of the GOP field have improved since the fall. Currently, 68% say the party’s candidates are excellent or good, up from 56% in November.

The greatest gains in satisfaction on the GOP side come from the Christian conservative and moderate wings of the party. In November, just 47% of moderate and liberal Republicans were satisfied with the field of candidates. Today, 64% of moderate and liberal voters say they have an excellent or good impression of the GOP candidates. Similarly, just 55% of conservative white evangelical Protestants expressed satisfaction with their choices in November, compared with 68% today.

Following the early caucuses and primaries, more voters are focusing intently on the candidates. Fully half of registered voters now say they have given a lot of thought to the candidates running for president this year, up from 40% on the eve of the Iowa caucuses. In October, only about a third (34%) reported this level of serious consideration.