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Favorability persists as a Hillary Clinton problem

February 26, 2008 |  5:49 pm

Dig deep into the new L.A. Times/Bloomberg nationwide poll, and the sources of Hillary Clinton's frustration over Barack Obama eclipsing her -- at least at the moment -- in the Democratic presidential race become obvious.

But one key question -- about a basic voter impression of the two, as well as of Republican John McCain -- seems to offer part of the answer to what clearly puzzles Clinton and her aides.

Overall, the survey (which you can read about here) found Obama edging ahead of Clinton, 48% to 42%, when those who have voted in a Democratic nominating contest or plan to were asked who they support. As we noted earlier today, the results confirm a stunning reversal in position between the two -- not so long ago, Clinton was the runaway leader for the party's nod.

But Clinton, on some key subjects, still appears to be in a stronger position than Obama when all voters polled -- Democrats, Republicans and independents -- were asked a series of issue-related questions that put McCain into the mix.

For instance, Clinton had a nine-percentage point advantage, 43% to 34%, when voters were asked ...

whether they believed she or McCain were best able to handle the economy.

Conversely, Obama ran behind McCain by eight points, 42% to 34%, on this same question -- which spotlights the issue that most concerns voters.

Both Democrats rate better than McCain on grappling with the healthcare issue. But Clinton scores higher than Obama; her advantage over McCain on this topic is 24 percentage points, Obama's is 14 percentage points.

But this appears to be Clinton's Achilles Heel: Favorability.

Significantly more voters have positive views of Obama and McCain than negative opinions. For Obama, the numbers are 61% favorable, 30% unfavorable; for McCain, it's 61% favorable, 26% unfavorable.

For Clinton, it's a much closer call; 51% view her favorably, 42% unfavorably.

McCain's big pluses over both Democrats crop up in matters of foreign policy, which he promotes as his area of expertise and interest.

For instance, on dealing with terrorism, he had a 37-point advantage over Obama and a 27-point margin over Clinton. On handling Iraq, he led Obama by 13 points and Clinton by 16.

On who has the right experience to serve as president, McCain posted a whopping lead of 31 points over Obama. He also ran ahead of Clinton in this category, but by a much lesser amount: 12 points.

These findings help explain McCain's slight edge over each Democrat in a general election match-up; he led Clinton, 46% to 40%, and Obama, 44% to 42%.

In both cases, the margins fall within the poll's error margin of plus-or-minus three precentage points. Still, the results are bound to buoy McCain's camp and bolster the argument he's long been making that he would be the GOP's strongest contender in November.

The survey, though, also identifies a potential dark cloud for him -- he badly trails both Democrats when voters were asked who they think would substantially change how Washington works. Obama's advantage over McCain on this question was 35 percentage points, Clinton's was a less impressive but still hefty 22 points.

You can peruse all of the figures and tables here.

-- Don Frederick