Report

News Interest Index: How Democrats See the Candidates

  • February 13, 2008

Barack Obama is seen by most Democrats as inspiring and as most likely to bring about change. Hillary Clinton is widely viewed as prepared to lead the country, but also hard to like. These are some of the major themes in campaign news coverage – identified by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) – which are registering with the public.

Obama has a clear advantage on three positive campaign themes. Fully 54% of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic say the word "inspiring" better describes Obama than Clinton, while 52% say the phrase "will bring change" applies more to the Illinois senator. By a wide margin (40%-21%), more Democrats also say that the phrase "honest and trustworthy" better describes Obama than Clinton.

Clinton holds a considerable advantage as the candidate more often viewed as "prepared to lead;" 38% of Democrats say this phrase better describes Clinton, while 28% say it applies to Obama. However, Clinton also is widely seen as "hard to like." By more than four-to-one (42%-9%), more Democrats say this phrase better describes Clinton than Obama, while 42% say it applies to neither candidate. Obama also is associated with a negative trait: 35% say the phrase "too inexperienced for the job" better describes him than it does Clinton, while 38% say it describes neither candidate.

PEJ also identified several themes in the news coverage of John McCain, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Three-quarters of Republicans and independents who lean Republican say the phrase "has an admirable character" describes McCain, while about as many associate him with the phrases "has a good chance of getting elected in November" (73%), and "honest and trustworthy" (70%). McCain was not compared with any other GOP candidate in these dimensions; instead, Republican and Republican-leaning independents were asked whether the phrases applied to him.

However, another prominent story angle identified by PEJ – that McCain is not a strong conservative – also has resonated with Republicans. Republicans are evenly divided over whether the phrase "not a true conservative" describes McCain. Nearly half (46%) say this phrase does not describe McCain, but about as many (44%) say that it does.

About a third of Republicans (34%) say that the phrase "can't control his temper" describes McCain, while 50% say it does not. Notably, relatively few Republicans (19%) say that the phrase "too old for the job" describes the 71-year-old McCain; fully 78% say it does not describe him.

Read the full report How Democrats See the Candidates on the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press Web site.