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U.S. Outlook Is Worst Since '92, Poll Finds
Obama holds double-digit advantages over McCain on health care, gas prices and the economy. McCain has a 21-point lead on handling the U.S. battle against terrorism, which proved the marquee issue of the 2004 presidential contest. Obama and McCain run almost even on managing the war in Iraq and on immigration.
And on candidate attributes, Obama has a substantial lead as the one who is more likely to bring needed change to Washington, as well as sizable advantages on temperament, empathy and clarity of vision. McCain has a whopping advantage on experience and is widely seen as having greater knowledge of world affairs.
Obama and McCain are more evenly matched on leadership and "personal and ethical standards." In early March, McCain had an advantage as the stronger leader, while Obama had an edge on ethics.
Overall, Americans are evenly divided on whether a steady hand or a new direction and new ideas are more important, which is one big reason the general election would be closer today than generic impressions of the two parties suggest. McCain handily beats either Democrat among those prioritizing experience, while Clinton and Obama outpace McCain among those looking for a new course for the country.
Independents will be a key voter group in the fall, and currently they split 51 percent for Obama to 42 percent for McCain. In a Clinton-McCain matchup, 49 percent would back McCain, 46 percent Clinton.
McCain's relative strength among independents is a primary reason he outperforms the broader GOP. While more than four in 10 independents choose him against either Democrat, they prefer Democrats over Republicans by a 2 to 1 margin to cope with the country's central concerns.
At the same time, while McCain has made considerable progress in consolidating support within his party, only 47 percent of conservatives said they would definitely back him over Obama. A higher percentage of liberals, 56 percent, said they would be firmly behind Obama.
Much of the focus in the Democratic race has been on Obama's difficulty in winning the votes of working-class whites. Against Obama, McCain is ahead among whites without college degrees by 52 percent to 40 percent, not that different from McCain's advantage over Clinton in this new poll.
On another racially tinged issue, about six in 10 Americans said Obama has distanced himself about the right amount from his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., but 27 percent said he has not gone far enough. These findings are little changed from April, even though Obama offered a much stronger denunciation of Wright after the earlier poll was taken.
Should Obama be the Democratic nominee, Clinton is by far the most popular choice to be his running mate. On an open-ended question, about four in 10 Democrats named her as their choice for the vice presidential nomination, with former senator John Edwards a distant second, at 10 percent.
But most Americans, including a slim majority of Democrats, said putting Clinton on the ticket would not have much effect on their vote in November.
Among Republicans, the sweepstakes appear to be even more wide open. Asked their preference for vice president, 12 percent said former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and 7 percent named former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. But nearly half, 47 percent, expressed no opinion.
The findings are based on telephone interviews with a random national sample of 1,122 adults from May 8 to 11. Results for the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. Error margins for subgroups are larger.
Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.