Summary of Findings
With battle lines drawn over legislation funding the Iraq war, the public is showing little appetite for compromise. Overall, a solid majority of Americans (59%) continue to say they want their representative to support a bill calling for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq by August 2008, while just a third want their representative to vote against such legislation.
What the two sides share is reluctance to compromise. Most supporters (54%) of a timeline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq say they want Democratic leaders to insist on that position rather than work toward an agreement with President Bush. An identical percentage of opponents of a timetable (54%) want Bush to hold to his threat to veto legislation that includes a withdrawal timeline, rather than seeking compromise with the Democrats.
The public remains pessimistic about the current situation in Iraq and is dubious that the recent troop surge will improve things there. For the first time, a majority (51%) of Americans say they believe the U.S. will definitely or probably fail in establishing a stable democratic government in Iraq.
As was the case in March, only about a quarter (24%) say the troop increase is making things better in Iraq; just 34% believe it will improve things in the long run. In addition, nearly as many Americans believe a terrorist attack on the U.S. is more likely if American troops stay in Iraq for many years, as say an attack is more likely if U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq while the country remains unstable (41% vs. 45%, respectively).
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted April 18-22 among 1,508 adults, finds substantial Republican unease with President Bush’s Iraq policies. Roughly half of all Republicans (49%) say they would prefer a presidential candidate who takes a different approach to the situation in Iraq; 44% prefer a candidate who will continue Bush’s Iraq policies.
So far, however, there is no evidence that these opinions are affecting the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Among Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters, 54% say they would prefer a candidate who takes a different approach to the situation in Iraq. Yet those who favor a different approach in Iraq and those who prefer a candidate who would continue Bush’s policies do not differ in their preferences in the GOP primary – former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads Sen. John McCain among both groups.
With nearly nine months to go before the first presidential primary, many voters are showing early signs of campaign fatigue. Roughly half of voters (52%) say the presidential election campaign is dull, while just 35% view it as interesting. An even higher percentage (63%) says the campaign is too long. More voters now view the campaign as too long than at much later points in the 2004 campaign (53% in June 2004).
Currently, liberal Democrats stand out as the only political group in which a majority of voters (57%) say they find the campaign interesting. By contrast, only about a third of conservative and moderate Democrats (35%), and slightly fewer Republicans (29%), say the presidential election campaign is interesting to them.
The survey finds little change over the past month in the presidential primary contests. Giuliani holds a nine-point advantage over McCain among Republican and Republican-leaning voters in the contest for the GOP nomination (32%-23%). Sen. Hillary Clinton leads Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination by 34% -24%, among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters.
Top Campaign Issue – Iraq
A clear plurality of both Democratic and Republican voters say the war in Iraq will be the most important issue to them in choosing among the candidates for their party’s nomination. Nearly four-in-ten Democratic voters cite the war as most important, more than double the number who mentioned the economy and job situation (16%), health care (13%), or education (12%).
Among potential Republican primary voters, 31% say Iraq is the issue they care most about in choosing between GOP candidates, followed by terrorism and security (17%), immigration (12%) and the economy (12%).
Relatively few voters in either party cite abortion policy as the key issue shaping their primary vote, though Republicans are more likely than Democrats to volunteer abortion as most important to them (7% vs. 1%). In addition, Republican voters also are more likely than Democratic voters to say they heard “a lot” about the recent Supreme Court decision upholding a ban on a specific abortion procedure known as “partial birth abortion.” More than a third of Republican voters (36%) say they heard a lot about the Supreme Court decision, compared with 28% of Democratic voters.
Ideology of the Candidates
Republican and Democratic voters express very different views of the ideologies of the leading Democratic candidates. Asked to rate each candidate’s ideology on a scale from one to six, where one represents a very conservative position and six very liberal, Hillary Clinton gets an overall score of 4.4. But Republican voters, on average, rate Clinton as 5.0, compared with Democratic voters who score Clinton as a 4.2. Fully 58% of Republican voters give Sen. Clinton the most liberal score possible – a six on the six-point scale – compared with just 22% of Democratic voters.
Republican voters view all four leading Democratic presidential candidates – as well as other leading Democrats, such as Bill Clinton and Nancy Pelosi – as far more liberal than do Democratic or independent voters. By contrast, Republicans, Democrats and independents give virtually identical ideological ratings to all of the Republicans tested, including George W. Bush.
In fact, Democrats do not see large ideological differences in the four leading candidates for their own party’s nomination. Among Democratic voters, Hillary Clinton is seen as the most liberal at 4.2, and Edwards as the most conservative at 3.9. But all of the candidates are very close to where Democratic voters rate themselves (4.0, on average).
Republican voters see greater distinctions in the ideologies of GOP candidates, giving Giuliani a fairly moderate 3.3 rating, while awarding Newt Gingrich a more conservative 2.6. Among Republican voters, only Gingrich’s ideology rating is close to their own (also a 2.6 on average). The other candidates (Giuliani, McCain at 3.2 and Romney at 3.0) are seen by Republicans as more moderate than they are themselves. The survey did not ask respondents to rate Fred Thompson on this ideological scale.
Candidate Images – the Democrats
Clinton’s lead in the early race for the Democratic nomination is reflected in her positive personal image. Clear pluralities of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters rate her as the candidate who would be the strongest leader (37%) and the most likely to make the changes the country needs (37%). When it comes to which candidate has the best experience to be president, Clinton and Gore are tied with 39% each. And in rating which candidate is the most inspiring, 32% of Democrats name Clinton, while 34% name Obama.
Clinton also has the advantage in terms of perceived electability. Nearly a third of Democrats (32%) see her as having the best chance to get elected in November 2008. This is roughly twice the numbers saying Obama (17%), Gore (16%) or Edwards (16%) have the best chance to win the general election.
‘Most Inspiring’ Democrat
Democrats are sharply divided over which candidate for the party’s nomination is the most inspiring. Comparable percentages of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters name Obama (34%) and Clinton (32%), but there are stark differences across groups.
Liberal Democrats see Obama as the more inspiring candidate by an 18-point margin (42% vs. 24% for Clinton), but moderate and conservative Democrats are split, with 36% saying Clinton is most inspiring and 32% Obama.
There is also a stark gender gap, with a plurality of women rating Clinton as the most inspiring, and a plurality of men choosing Obama. But the largest gap in perceptions is across educational lines. By an overwhelming 48% to 18% margin, Democrats with a college degree see Obama as more inspiring than Hillary Clinton. But among Democrats who did not attend college, Clinton has a large advantage (43%-21%).
There is also a significant difference of opinion among Democrats over which candidate has the best experience to be president, with equal numbers naming Al Gore and Hillary Clinton (39% each).
For the most part it is men, the more educated, the more liberal, and younger Democrats who see Gore as the candidate of experience, while women, less educated Democrats, and moderate and older Democrats who give Clinton the edge on experience.
Republican Candidate Images
Pluralities of Republican and Republican-leaning voters rate Giuliani as the strongest leader, most inspiring, and the candidate best able to make the changes the country needs. McCain leads on only one trait – having the best experience to be president – and his advantage is slight (32% vs. 28% who cite Giuliani). Newt Gingrich gets his highest ratings for experience – 17% of Republicans cite him as the candidate with the best experience to be president.
The electability advantage also clearly goes to Giuliani. Fully 44% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters cite the former New York City mayor as the candidate with the best chance of getting elected president in November 2008. Just 21% believe McCain has the best chance to win, and even fewer name Fred Thompson, Gingrich or Romney.
Yet Giuliani’s greatest asset may be that he is seen as the most inspiring of the GOP candidates; 44% of Republican voters describe him this way, which is greater than the percentage supporting Giuliani for the nomination (32% in April). This image is particularly strong among more moderate Republicans, as well as those who are younger and more affluent.
More than half of moderate Republicans (52%) and the same number of Republicans under age 50 pick the former New York City mayor as the most inspiring candidate in the race, as do 56% of Republicans with household incomes over $75,000 annually.
The Democratic Horserace
Clinton holds a consistent lead in most national polls of Democratic voters, but her advantage does not span all constituencies within the party. Obama runs about even with, or leads, Clinton among several segments of the partisan base, including liberals, men, younger voters, and the highly educated. Obama also has strong regional support from Democrats in the Midwest, and is tied with Clinton in the West. Clinton’s largest advantages come among conservatives, older voters, and those in the lowest income and education categories.
John Edwards runs six points behind Obama among all Democratic voters, but draws far closer among certain key constituencies. In particular, Democrats age 65 and over are slightly more likely to say they back Edwards than Obama at this stage in the race. And Edwards runs nearly even with Obama among white Democrats. (Note: This analysis is based on Pew surveys from March and April, among Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters).
Democratic Voting Blocks
Race: It is largely a two person race for the nomination among black Democratic voters. Clinton holds a 46%-36% lead over Obama, with no other candidate in double digits. By comparison, the field is more wide open among white Democrats. While Clinton holds an eight-point advantage over Obama (30% to 22%) among white Democratic voters. Edwards (20%) and Al Gore (16%) also receive substantial backing.
Gender: There is a substantial gender gap in support for Hillary Clinton – 38% of women support her run for the Democratic nomination compared with 29% of men. Support for Obama and Edwards does not differ by gender, but Gore receives nearly twice as much support among men than he does among women.
Age: Younger voters form the core of Obama’s support – he holds a slim 36% to 31% lead over Clinton among Democratic voters under age 30, while trailing Clinton by a wide margin (15% to 38%) among those ages 65 and over. Older voters are also the most drawn to John Edwards’ campaign – he receives the support of 22% of seniors, and just 13% of Democrats ages 18-29.
Ideology: Clinton’s core support comes from the more conservative wing of the party – fully 42% of conservative Democrats favor her for the party nomination, while Edwards (17%) and Obama (15%) run well behind. Obama garners far more support from the party’s moderate and liberal voters, running nearly even with Hillary Clinton among both groups.
Income and Education: The wealthiest Democrats are among the biggest backers of Barack Obama’s run for the presidency – 37% of Democratic voters with annual household incomes of at least $100,000 favor Obama, compared with 25% who favor Clinton and 18% who back Edwards. At lower income levels, support shifts starkly to Clinton; she holds a 43% to 17% lead over Obama among Democrats with household incomes under $30,000 annually.
Religion: Seculars – those who say they do not belong to any religious group – favor Obama by overwhelming margins. Fully 44% of seculars favor Obama’s run for the presidency, compared with just 19% who favor Clinton and 18% Edwards.
The Republican Horserace
Rudy Giuliani holds a sizable lead in most national surveys of Republican voters. Pew’s April poll finds him leading McCain by a 32% to 23% margin. While his margin is narrower among some segments of the party base, there is no constituency in the Republican Party that favors another candidate over Giuliani for the nomination. (Note: This analysis is based on Pew surveys from March and April, among Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters).
Republican Voting Blocks
Age: Giuliani runs especially well among younger GOP voters. Fully 47% of Republican voters ages 18-29 favor Giuliani, compared with just 25% of those age 65 and over. McCain trails Giuliani by 19 points among Republican voters under age 30, but just four points among those ages 65 and older. Part of this is due to the fact that older Republicans are far less likely to express a preference for any candidate at this stage in the campaign.
Income and Education: Giuliani holds a sizable lead among wealthy Republican voters. Those with household incomes of $100,000 or more favor Giuliani over McCain by more than two-to-one (42% vs. 20%), a substantially wider margin than among Republicans with lower incomes. Giuliani holds a double-digit lead over McCain among college graduates, as well as those who have attended college but have not graduated.
Ideology: Giuliani leads McCain among conservative Republicans as well as moderate and liberal Republican voters. Gingrich runs much better among conservative GOP voters than among moderates and liberals (11% vs. 2%), while Romney draws about the same amount of support from both groups.
Bush and Iraq: Giuliani holds a 12-point lead among Republicans who approve of the president’s performance in office, and a 14-point lead among those who want the next president to continue Bush’s policies in Iraq. If anything, McCain appears to garner somewhat more support from war skeptics than war backers. Just 11% of Republicans who believe things are going “very well” in Iraq favor McCain as the Republican nominee, compared with 28% who back Giuliani. McCain’s electoral strength is among Republicans who think things are not going well in Iraq, 30% of whom back his candidacy, nearly tied with the 31% who favor Giuliani.
Iraq and Terrorism in the U.S.
More than four-in-ten Americans (45%) say that, if the U.S. withdraws its troops from Iraq while the country is still unstable, it would make a terrorist attack in the U.S. more likely. But nearly as many (41%) say an attack would be more likely if U.S. forces remain in Iraq for many years.
Two-thirds of Republicans (67%) say withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq with that country still unstable would increase chances of a terrorist attack in this country. But there is no agreement among Republicans that maintaining U.S. forces in Iraq for many years would actually reduce the likelihood of an attack in the U.S.: 36% say it would, but about as many (38%) say it would make no difference, and 19% believe it would make an attack more likely.
About a third of Democrats (35%) say withdrawing U.S. troops with Iraq still unstable would make a terrorist attack more likely, but more Democrats (51%) say a troop withdrawal under such conditions would make no difference in the terrorist threat at home. By contrast, 53% of Democrats say an extended stay for U.S. troops in Iraq would make a terrorist attack in the U.S. more likely.
Roughly the same number of independents believes that a terrorist attack on the U.S. would be more likely if U.S. troops stay in Iraq for many years (46%), or if the U.S. withdraws its forces while the country remains unstable (42%).
Four months after the bipartisan Iraq Study Group proposed a number of new policy options for Iraq, these proposals remain broadly popular with the public: Solid majorities favor initiating talks with Iran and Syria to encourage cooperation on Iraq (66%), and trying harder to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (59%). Opinion on these proposals has changed little since December, when they were first recommended by the panel led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton.
There is somewhat less support than in December for shifting the primary mission of U.S. troops from fighting insurgents to supporting the Iraqi army; 55% favor this proposal now, compared with 62% in December. The most contentious recommendation by the Baker-Hamilton commission was that the U.S. should end its support of the Iraqi government if it failed to make substantial progress. A narrow majority (52%) supports this proposal, while 36% are opposed. Opinion on this proposal is also virtually unchanged since December (52% favor/38% opposed).
Iraq Trends Stable
Long-term public attitudes about the Iraq war has been fairly stable recently. Positive views of how the U.S. military effort in Iraq is going, which hit an all-time low in February (30%), have rebounded a bit and currently stand at 38%. Nonetheless, significantly fewer people think things in Iraq are going very or fairly well than did so a year ago (47% in April 2006).
There also has been an uptick in the number of Americans who believe the United States will probably fail, or definitely fail, in establishing a stable democratic government in Iraq. For the first time, a majority (51%) expresses this view, while 42% believe the U.S. will probably or definitely succeed. Since August, the number of Americans who say the U.S. will fail in establishing a stable democratic government has increased by 10 points (from 41% to 51%).
The public is evenly divided about whether the U.S. will generally succeed in “achieving its goals” in Iraq – 45% say it will definitely or probably succeed, while 46% believe it will fail. The number saying the U.S. will fail in achieving its goals also has increased since last August, from 40% to 46%.
Views of the ‘Surge’
Nearly twice as many Americans say the recent U.S. troop increase in Iraq is not having any effect as say it is making things better in the country (46% vs. 24%). As was the case in March, there is somewhat greater optimism that the troop surge will make things better in the long run.
Yet the balance of opinion about the long-term effect of the troop increase has become slightly more negative since March. This is especially evident among independents. In March, a narrow plurality of independents (38%) said the troop increase would make things better in Iraq in the long run, while 35% said it would not have any effect. In the current survey, 40% of independents say the surge will have no long-term effect compared with 31% who believe it will make things better.
Few Strong Opinions on Gonzales
Liberal Democrats are following the case of the eight fired federal prosecutors far more closely than other Americans, and, not surprisingly, believe Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should either resign or lose his job over the affair.
Overall, just one-in-three Americans have heard a lot about the situation, while 22% have heard nothing at all about it. And as the investigation into Gonzales’ involvement in the case moves forward, an increasing number of Americans say they have no opinion about whether the Attorney General deserves to lose his job or not. Currently, 42% of Americans have no opinion on this question, up from 39% in late March a
nd 33% in a Newsweek poll in mid-March.
But the situation is far more crystallized for liberal Democrats, nearly half of whom (48%) have heard a lot about the firings and how they were handled, and most of whom (59%) believe Gonzales deserves to lose his job.
On balance, more Americans think Gonzales should resign or be fired than not (34% vs. 24%), but at the same time, a 34% plurality say Congress is spending too much time conducting investigations of possible government wrongdoing in the case. Another 23% think they are spending the right amount of time on the investigations, and 17% say not enough time. Again, more than a quarter of Americans (26%) have no opinion to offer on the situation.