Report

Obama's Image Slips, His Lead Over Clinton Disappears

  • May 01, 2008

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds that Democratic voters are not as positive about Barack Obama as they were a month ago. Somewhat smaller percentages of Democrats describe Obama in favorable terms, and he has lost his lead over Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination. Nationally, Democratic voters are about evenly divided between Obama and Clinton; Obama holds a slight 47% to 45% edge. In late March, the Illinois senator held a 49% to 39% lead over his New York rival.

The tightening Democratic race reflects a modest but consistent decline in Obama's personal image rather than improved impressions of Clinton. Fewer Democrats ascribe positive qualities to Obama than did so a month ago, with white working-class Democrats, in particular, expressing more skeptical views of the Illinois senator. Since late February, his unfavorable rating has risen six points among all Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters. At the same time, Clinton's unfavorable rating among Democratic voters also has increased by seven points.

The latest survey, conducted April 23-27 (before Rev. Jeremiah Wright's appearance at the National Press Club), finds notable changes in the Democratic race, a sharp decline in public support for free trade, and a reversal of recent positive trends in opinions about the war in Iraq:

  • Race and class are now bigger drivers of preferences in the Democratic contest than they were a month ago. Clinton's lead among whites who did not attend college has increased from 10 points in March to 40 points currently.
  • Obama's image continues to surpass Clinton's on several key dimensions. But substantially fewer Democratic voters view Obama as “down-to-earth” than did so a month ago, and the decline has been particularly notable among less affluent white Democrats (15 points).
  • Clinton holds a substantial advantage over Obama with respect to two personal qualities – toughness and patriotism. Yet the proportion of Democratic voters describing Clinton as honest has fallen from 65% to 57% since March and the percentage describing her as “phony” has increased from 29% to 35%.
  • For his part, McCain bests both Democrats on several important personal traits and is viewed as more of a centrist ideologically than either Obama or Clinton. But he continues to trail both by small margins in general election matchups.
  • With the economy continuing to sag, the public is taking a much more critical view of free trade agreements. Nearly half of Americans (48%) say free trade agreements are a bad thing for the country, the highest percentage since the question was first asked in 1997. There is now broad agreement that free trade negatively affects wages, jobs and economic growth in America.
  • Fewer Americans say things are going well in Iraq than did so in February, and support for a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces has climbed by seven points (to 56%). The proportion saying the decision to go to war was wrong has edged up to 57%, the highest percentage expressing this view in the five years of the Iraq war.

Read the full report Obama's Image Slips, His Lead Over Clinton Disappears on the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press Web site.