World and Nation

GOP Voters Seem Uninspired By Presidential Candidates

Three weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Republicans voters across the country appear uninspired by their field of presidential candidates, with a vast majority saying they have not made a final decision about whom to support, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

Not one of the Republican candidates is viewed favorably by even half the Republican electorate, the poll found. And in a sign of the fluidity of the race, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who barely registered in early polls several months ago, is locked in a tight contest nationally with Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

By contrast, Democrats are happier with their field and more settled in their decisions. For all the problems Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York appears to be having holding off her rivals in Iowa and New Hampshire, she remains strong nationally, the poll found. Even after what her aides acknowledge have been two of the roughest months of her candidacy, she is viewed by Democrats as a far more electable candidate in the general election than either Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois or John Edwards of North Carolina.

Not only do substantially more Democratic voters judge her to be ready for the presidency than believe Obama is prepared for the job, the poll found, but more Democrats see Clinton, rather than Obama, as someone who can unite the country.

The Republican and Democratic nominating contests, which begin with the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, are approaching at a time of anxiety and uncertainty. Americans, the poll found, think the economy is bad and getting worse. A vast majority think the country is heading in the wrong direction. More people cite the Iraq war as the most important issue facing the country than cite any other matter, and though 38 percent say the dispatch of extra troops to Iraq this year is working, a majority continue to say that undertaking the war was a mistake.

The candidates are running against a backdrop of decidedly negative view of Washington. At 21 percent, the approval rating for this Democratic-led Congress is at a new low, reflecting the defection of independent voters, a potentially worrisome development for Democrats going into next year’s congressional elections. President Bush’s approval rating is at 28 percent, one point above the lowest of his tenure.

The poll confirmed that former President Bill Clinton was an effective campaign weapon for his wife. Forty-four percent of Democrats said Bill Clinton’s involvement would make them more likely to support the senator. In fact, about as many of Sen. Clinton’s backers say they are supporting her because of her husband as say they are supporting her because of her own experience.

The poll found just 1 percent said they might be swayed by the involvement of Oprah Winfrey, who has been campaigning for Obama in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire the last three days, drawing huge crowds and allowing the Obama campaign to identify new supporters.

The nationwide telephone poll of 1,028 voters, taken Dec. 5–9, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for all voters, 5 percentage points for Democratic voters and 6 percentage points for Republican voters.