In the past two months, Sen. Barack Obama has built a commanding coalition among Democratic voters, with especially strong support among men, and is now viewed by most Democrats as the candidate best able to beat Sen. John McCain, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.
After 40 Democratic primaries and caucuses, capped by a winning streak in 11 contests over the last two weeks, Obama has made substantial gains across most major demographic groups in the Democratic Party, including men and women, liberals and moderates, higher- and lower-income voters, and those with and without college degrees.
But there are signs of vulnerability for Obama in this national poll: While he has a strong edge among Democratic voters on his ability to unite and inspire the country, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is still viewed by more Democrats as prepared for the job of president. And while he has made progress among women, he still faces a striking gender gap: Obama is backed by two-thirds of the Democratic men and 45 percent of the women, who are equally divided in their support between the two. White women remain a Clinton stronghold.
When all voters are asked to look ahead to the general election, McCain, the likely Republican nominee, is seen as better prepared for the presidency, better able to handle an international crisis and more equipped to serve as commander in chief than either of the Democratic candidates.
Even so, the poll provides a snapshot of Obama’s strength after this first, frenzied round of primaries and caucuses, which knocked seven of the nine Democratic candidates out of the race. For the first time in a New York Times/CBS News Poll, he moved ahead of Clinton nationally, with 54 percent of Democratic primary voters saying they wanted to see him nominated, while 38 percent preferred Clinton. A new USA Today/Gallup Poll released Monday showed a similar result, 51 percent for Obama to 39 percent for Clinton.
These national polls are not predictive of the Democratic candidates’ standings in individual states, notably Ohio and Texas, which hold the next primaries on March 4. Most recent polls there show a neck-and-neck race in Texas and Clinton with a lead in Ohio; her campaign advisers say that if she prevails next Tuesday the race will begin anew.
But the NYT/CBS News poll shows that Obama’s coalition — originally derided by critics as confined to upper-income reformers, young people and blacks — has broadened widely. In December, for example, he had the support of 26 percent of male Democratic primary voters; in the latest poll, that had climbed to 67 percent.
“He’s from Illinois, and I’m from Illinois, and he reminds me of Abraham Lincoln,” said Dylan Jones, 53, a laborer from Oxford, N.C., who was interviewed in a follow-up to the poll. “I can see him out there splitting rails. I don’t have anything against Hillary Clinton, so I guess it’s because he’s new blood.”
Similarly, Obama’s support among those with household incomes under $50,000 rose to 48 percent from 35 percent since December.