The poll was conducted for NPR Jan. 29-31, by Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. It consisted of a national telephone survey of 1,000 likely voters. The survey has a margin of error of +/-3 percentage points.
Voters are closely divided over the presidential race, saying they would like to see a Democrat in the White House, but picking Republican John McCain over Democrats Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama when asked about specific candidates, according to a new NPR poll.
The poll also shows 68 percent of respondents think the country is on the wrong track, and the economy is uppermost on voters' minds, followed by the Iraq war and health care.
If the election were held today, 49 percent of likely voters said they would support the Democratic candidate and 44 percent would vote for the Republican nominee, according to the poll, conducted Jan. 29-31.
However, when likely voters are asked about matchups between specific candidates, Sen. McCain holds a slight lead over either Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama, though McCain's advantage is within the poll's margin of error.
In a theoretical match-up between Clinton and Republican former governor Mitt Romney, Clinton leads 49 percent to 44 percent.
The poll shows there would be a tighter race between Clinton and McCain, with the Arizona Republican garnering 48 percent to Clinton's 45 percent, within the poll's 3-percentage-point margin of error.
Obama would beat Romney 53-41 percent, according to the poll. But a race between Obama and McCain would be too close to call, with McCain at 48 percent and Obama 47 percent.
President Bush's approval ratings remain low. Among poll respondents, 38 percent approve of the job he is doing, unchanged from the previous NPR poll in October. In the new poll, 56 percent disapprove of the president's performance compared with 60 percent last fall.
Congress fares no better, garnering a 28 percent approval rating and 65 percent disapproval. In October, 25 percent of respondents said they approved of the job Congress is doing and 69 percent disapproved.
In the latest poll, only 23 percent of respondents said the country was heading in the right direction, unchanged from October.
The economy and jobs (29 percent) topped the list of issues to which voters say the president and Congress should pay the most attention, followed by the Iraq war (15 percent), health care (11 percent), terrorism and national security (11 percent) and illegal immigration (9 percent).