NPR Poll Finds Mixed Signals on Candidates Voters are closely divided over the presidential race. They say they would prefer to see a Democrat in the White House. But they pick Republican John McCain over Democrats Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama when asked about specific candidates.
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NPR Poll Finds Mixed Signals on Candidates

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NPR Poll Finds Mixed Signals on Candidates

NPR Poll Finds Mixed Signals on Candidates

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And the next big contest, it's a political one, Super Tuesday. Twenty-four states have presidential contests tomorrow. Morning Edition asked its polling team, Democrat Stan Greenberg and Republican Glen Bolger, to see how likely voters are feeling about their choices for president.

NPR's Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON: Our polls shows the mood of voters staying remarkably stable and downbeat. Big majorities, 68-23, still think the country's on the wrong track. President Bush's approval ratings are still under 40 percent, but there is something new, says Democrat Stan Greenberg.

Mr. STAN GREENBERG (Democrat Pollster): There's now crystallization on the presidential level around real candidates and they are about to move the generic ballot, whether you'd vote for an unnamed candidate, has made that closer.

LIASSON: The generic ballot asks voters whether they'd vote for an unnamed Democratic or Republican candidate if the election were held today. In our past polls, Democrats have had a double-digit advantage here, but now that's gone. Democrats are only ahead by five points. And in a year where there hasn't been much good news for the GOP, that narrowing gap is heartening to our Republican pollster, Glen Bolger.

Mr. GLEN BOLGER (Republican Pollster): When you see that McCain is ahead of Senator Clinton by three points and ahead of Obama by one point, it underscores that these are actual candidates running as opposed to Party labels.

LIASSON: And right now the Democratic Party label is doing better than the Democratic candidates. When the two Democratic front-runners are matched hypothetically against the Republican front-runner, they produce two very different scenarios. Stan Greenberg.

Mr. GREENBERG: Obviously, Senator Clinton has higher negatives, but she certainly mobilizes Democrats and consolidates Democrats, that's evident in this survey, and that's also true on the Republican side when she runs. And you have a race in which Independents break for the Republicans. When Obama and McCain run, it's a totally different race if the Independents are divided evenly.

LIASSON: Elizabeth Stonesifer, a retired nurse from Pekin, Illinois, echoes the thinking of many other Independents. If she went Republican in November, she says, she'd pick McCain.

Ms. ELIZABETH STONESIFER (Independent): 'Cause I think he's authentic, whether you agree with all of his views, and I don't. I like him as a person.

LIASSON: If she decided to vote Democratic, she'd go with Obama.

Ms. STONESIFER: I see him as certainly more authentic than Hillary Clinton. I'm disillusioned, disappointed, I do not see her as authentic. She is truly a politician from the word go.

LIASSON: Stacy Nichols(ph) is a Republican from Amherst, New York, who may be part of John McCain's problem, consolidating the Conservative base of his party.

Ms. STACY NICHOLS (Republican): Frankly, I'm not thrilled with the Republican candidates, but at this point I think Romney probably is the better one. John McCain, I don't believe he is a true Conservative.

LIASSON: No matter who runs against, a stubborn 36 percent of likely voters in our polls say there is no chance at all they'd vote for Hillary Clinton. Barbara Shrum(ph), a stay-at-home mom from El Cajon, California is one of them.

Ms. BARBARA SHRUM (Voter): Well, if she was running against bin Laden, yeah, I'd vote for her.

LIASSON: Voters like Barbara Shrum are the reason Glen Bolger says Republicans would be better off running against Senator Clinton.

Mr. BOLGER: Given how well she unites the Republican base behind the Republican candidate, for example, against John McCain, she gets five percent of the Republican vote compared to Obama's 13 percent. What is amazing to me is how well she unites the Democratic base. Whether that would hold true in November, you know, obviously there's a long way between now and the election.

LIASSON: And Stan Greenberg says that consolidating the Democratic base is crucial.

Mr. GREENBERG: This is the year when being the Democrat matters. The Democrats in this poll, by four points, there are more people who identify with the Democrats than Republicans. In most other polls it's bigger than that. And having this level of consolidation and energy is a big factor going in.

LIASSON: And it's one of the most significant factors about this election cycle. The enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats is huge and right now it's working against the Republicans. Glen Bolger.

Mr. BOLGER: Well, let's face it, right now the Democratic primary is a lot sexier than the Republican primary. You have a young charismatic African-American with the best chance of being elected president of any African-American ever in this country. You have a woman who is the most serious female candidate for president ever in this country. On the Republican side none of the candidates are seen as rock stars like Barack Obama or clearly, some segment of the Democratic electorate, Hillary Clinton.

LIASSON: And Democratic enthusiasm is higher by every measure, the amount of money raised, the number of people who watch the debates, and the turnout in the early contests. Democrats, at least at this point, appear to be fired up and ready to go, even though our head-to-head match up suggest this election could be very close.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: And if you'd like to read complete poll results, you can do that at You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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