WASHINGTON – The opening stages of the campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination have produced a noticeable shift in sentiment among African American voters, who little more than a month ago heavily supported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton but now favor the candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama.
Clinton, of New York, continues to lead Obama and other rivals in the Democratic contest, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. But her once-sizable margin over the freshman senator from Illinois was sliced in half during the past month largely because of Obama’s growing support among black voters.
In the Republican race, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who recently made clear his intentions to seek the presidency, has expanded his lead over Arizona Sen. John McCain. Giuliani holds a 2-to-1 advantage over McCain among Republicans, according to the poll, more than tripling his margin of a month ago.
The principal reason was a shift among white evangelical Protestants, who now clearly favor Giuliani over McCain. Giuliani gained among this group of Americans despite his support of abortion rights and gay rights, two issues of great importance to religious conservatives. McCain opposes abortion rights.
Among Democrats, Clinton still enjoys many of the advantages of a traditional front-runner. Pitted against Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, she was seen by Democrats as the candidate with the best experience to be president, as the strongest leader, as having the best chance to get elected, as the closest to voters on the issues and as the candidate who best understands the problems “of people like you.” Obama was seen as the most inspirational.
Clinton’s and Obama’s support among white voters changed little since December, but the changes among African American Democrats were dramatic. In December and January Post-ABC News polls, Clinton led Obama among African Americans by 60 percent to 20. In the new poll, Obama held a narrow advantage among blacks, 44 percent to 33. The shift came despite four in five blacks having a favorable impression of the New York senator.
African Americans view Clinton even more positively than they see Obama, but in the time since he launched his campaign, his favorability rating rose significantly among blacks. In the latest poll, 70 percent of African Americans said they had a favorable impression of Obama, compared with 54 percent in December and January.