by Michael Dimock, Associate Director for Research, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
The exceptionally strong support for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama among black voters (and, for Clinton, among liberal Democratic and lower-income white voters as well), may help explain the relatively limited appeal of presidential hopeful John Edwards, whose populist platform has not translated so far into support from these key segments of the Democratic electorate.
While wide majorities of Democratic voters rate all three of the leading Democratic candidates favorably, there is less enthusiasm for John Edwards than the other leading candidates. The difference is driven mainly by a lack of excitement, and even some doubts, among black voters.
Overall, more than eight-in-ten Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters familiar with each candidate rate them favorably (86% for Clinton, 83% for Obama and 82% for Edwards). But Edwards trails the other two in the share who express a very favorable view. A third of Democratic voters (34%) view Clinton very favorably, and 29% say the same about Obama, compared with just 20% for Edwards.
Among African-Americans, the gap is much larger. Fully half of black Democrats rate Clinton (52%) and Obama (50%) very favorably – the highest ratings for these candidates from any segment of the party base. But just 18% of black Democrats feel as favorably toward John Edwards. In fact, 27% of black Democrats who rate Edwards give him an unfavorable rating, compared with just 16% of white Democrats.
By comparison, white Democrats give fairly similar ratings to all three leading candidates: Just over 80% rate each favorably, and while there is somewhat more enthusiasm for Clinton (29% very favorable) than Obama (23%) and Edwards (21%), the differences among whites are not nearly on the scale visible among blacks. Of the three, Edwards is the only candidate who receives a higher rating among white Democrats than among black Democrats.
The overwhelmingly favorable image of Clinton and Obama among black Democrats is reflected in measures of voting intentions. For example, while Pew’s late-July survey found Clinton holding a sizeable lead among nearly all segments of the Democratic electorate, a sizeable divide separated black and white voters. While Clinton was backed by 37% of white Democrats and Obama by another 17%, 38% of whites currently favor others in the field. Notably, both Edwards (14%) and non-candidate Al Gore (14%) garner nearly as much support as Obama among white Democrats.
By contrast, black Democrats show significant support for only two candidates, Clinton (47%) and Obama (34%). Just 9% of black Democrats favor another candidate, including only 1% who currently back Edwards.
Despite Edwards’ focus on poverty and the concerns of lower-income Americans in his campaign, he is viewed no more favorably by low-income Americans than by those with higher incomes. Not only does he trail the other candidates among African Americans, but just 17% of lower-income whites give Edwards a very favorable rating, compared with 35% for Clinton.
Clinton’s Positive Image among Liberals
Liberal Democrats have always liked Hillary Clinton, but the level of enthusiasm for her has grown notably as her 2008 candidacy has gained more attention. Currently, 92% of liberal Democrats who offer an opinion of Clinton view her favorably, up from 85% in 2001 just after she became the junior senator from New York. Meanwhile, the share of conservative Democrats who view Clinton favorably has declined, from 86% in 2001 to 75% today. Currently 39% of liberal Democrats offer a very favorable assessment of Clinton, compared with 35% who say the same about Obama and just 24% for Edwards.
Obama’s Positive Image among College Graduates
Education is a defining factor linked to Democratic views of Barack Obama. Fully 93% of Democrats with college degrees rate Obama favorably, compared with just 70% of Democrats who did not attend college. The pattern is the same, but far less significant when it comes to Clinton and Edwards – ratings are higher among college grads, but only slightly.