by Andrew Kohut, President, Pew Research Center
Special to the New York Times
If they turn out to be their party’s nominees, both Barack Obama and John McCain need to educate voters about themselves in some pretty basic, and challenging, ways.
The Democratic candidate has to give voters a better sense of what he stands for, and the Republican candidate has to assure members of his own party that he is conservative enough.
At first glance, Senator McCain’s task seems the more daunting. After all, the Arizona senator has a long political track record. But the latest polling from the Pew Research Center suggests that Senator Obama’s challenge may be more difficult.
Fully 56% of voters questioned in a late February nationwide Pew survey said that the Illinois senator has not provided enough information about his policies and plans for the country.
At the same time, this poll and others have found that voters have a sense of who Obama is, at least in terms of his general leanings.
The combination of having a sense of who Obama is and yet wanting to know more can be a problem for a high-flying candidate. Obama is seen as a liberal — more liberal than the average voter, according to Pew Research Center surveys.
He is seen as somewhat more liberal than Hillary Clinton, and more liberal than the average Democrat. However, even more problematic in the long run is that the moderates and political independents, who will likely decide the outcome of the November election, see Obama as much more liberal than they see themselves.