A CBS/NY Times Poll released this morning is a mixed bag for Senator Obama. The majority of those polled don’t think the Reverend Wright Controversy will effect their vote in the Primaries, they do say however, that it might change their mind for the general election.
Additionally ” nearly half of the voters surveyed, and a substantial part of the Democrats, said Mr. Obama had acted mainly because he thought it would help him politically, rather than because he had serious disagreements with his former pastor”
The full NY Times Story Follows:
In Poll, Obama Survives Furor, but Fall Is the Test
WASHINGTON — A majority of American voters say that the furor over the relationship between Senator Barack Obama and his former pastor has not affected their opinion of Mr. Obama, but a substantial number say that it could influence voters this fall should he be the Democratic presidential nominee, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.
At the same time, an overwhelming majority of voters said candidates calling for the suspension of the federal gasoline tax this summer were acting to help themselves politically, rather than to help ordinary Americans. Mr. Obama’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, has made the suspension of the gas tax a centerpiece of her campaign in recent days. In the survey, taken in the days leading up to the primaries on Tuesday in Indiana and North Carolina, Americans were divided over the merits of the gasoline-tax suspension, which has also been backed by the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, and condemned by Mr. Obama as political gimmickry.Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama spent the final Sunday before the two primaries debating the gas-tax holiday and other issues on morning talk shows and in events across Indiana. The poll, conducted after Mr. Obama held a news conference on Tuesday in which he renounced his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., for making incendiary comments, found that most Americans said they approved of the way Mr. Obama had responded to the episode and considered his criticism of Mr. Wright appropriate. But nearly half of the voters surveyed, and a substantial part of the Democrats, said Mr. Obama had acted mainly because he thought it would help him politically, rather than because he had serious disagreements with his former pastor. The broader effect of the controversy on Mr. Obama’s candidacy among Democratic primary voters was less clear in the poll, but enough of them expressed qualms about Mr. Obama’s relationship with Mr. Wright to suggest it could sway a relatively small but potentially important group of voters in the remaining primaries.The relatively small number of Democrats surveyed limits the conclusions that can be drawn about the poll’s findings regarding sentiment in the party. Moreover, as a national poll, it does not necessarily reflect the thoughts of voters in Indiana and North Carolina. Questions involving racially charged episodes have historically proved difficult to poll, particularly when it comes to asking white voters about black candidates.Still, the survey suggested that Mr. Obama, of Illinois, had lost much or all of the once-commanding lead he had held over Mrs. Clinton, of New York, among Democratic voters on the question of which of them would be the strongest candidate against Mr. McCain, of Arizona. In February, 59 percent called Mr. Obama the stronger candidate, compared with 28 percent who named Mrs. Clinton. In the latest survey, the two were essentially tied. The survey of 601 registered voters was conducted between Thursday night and Saturday night. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points for all voters and six points for voters who said they voted in Democratic primaries or caucuses. Mr. Obama held his news conference on Tuesday after Mr. Wright, in a series of public appearances, reiterated his suggestion that American policies had invited the attack of Sept. 11 and that the United States had created the virus that causes AIDS, and mocked the speaking style of John F. Kennedy.For all the concern voiced by some Democrats that the party might be suffering damage from the nominating fight as it headed into the fall election, the survey found both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama in a strong position against Mr. McCain in a hypothetical general election match-up. Mr. Obama would defeat Mr. McCain by 51 percent to 40 percent among all voters, the poll found, and Mrs. Clinton would defeat him 53 to 41.The survey offered evidence of the extent to which the Wright episode had captured the public’s attention. And it turned up signs that Mr. Obama might be moving beyond the issue: 60 percent of voters said they approved of the way he had handled the issue, and a majority said the news media had spent too much time covering the story.“Reverend Wright is not Barack Obama,” said Heather Fortner, 56, of Florida, who said she voted for Mrs. Clinton in that state’s disputed primary. “Everybody knows a lot of a people and everyone can take advice from a lot of people.”“It’s just wrong what we’ve been doing to Mr. Obama over this,” she said.Still, the poll raised some flags of concern for him, particularly should he win his party’s nomination.While just 24 percent of voters said they thought the Wright issue would matter a lot or some to them in the fall, 44 percent said it would matter a lot or some to “most people you know.” And while just 9 percent of Democrats said the issue would matter a lot to them should Mr. Obama be their party’s nominee, even that small a slice of the electorate could be a problem for Mr. Obama if he won the nomination and the contest against Mr. McCain was close. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said Mr. Obama was “tough enough to make the hard decisions a president has to make.” Seventy percent said the same of Mrs. Clinton, and 71 percent of Mr. McCain.“The thing with Wright really did bother me,” Phyllis Julien, a Democrat from Brookline, Mo., said in an interview after she participated in the poll. “I was leaning towards Obama before this because I thought he could be a change for the American people, but now I’m leaning toward Clinton. I would have to see a little more fire in his belly to vote for him, and I just don’t see it.”“You have to worry about how strong his convictions are when he can’t stand up to someone who’s wronged him,” Ms. Julien said. The survey found that, notwithstanding Mr. Obama’s efforts to distance himself from Mr. Wright, the man who married him and baptized his children, many Americans consider Mr. Wright to have had at least some influence in his life. Forty-three percent said they thought Mr. Wright had a lot of or some influence on Mr. Obama’s political views. On the gasoline tax, the survey underlined the risk Mrs. Clinton is taking in embracing a position that most Americans — including a majority of her own supporters — appear to view as political pandering. More than 60 percent of voters in the poll said that Mrs. Clinton said what people wanted to hear, rather than what she believed. Forty-three percent said that about Mr. Obama, and 41 percent about Mr. McCain. Sixty percent of Democratic primary voters who support Mrs. Clinton favored the temporary elimination of the gasoline tax, and an equal percentage of Mr. Obama’s supporters called the proposal a bad idea. But majorities of both candidates’ supporters called the proposal a political tactic.“Clinton is supporting the lifting of the gas tax because right now she needs more votes,” said Greg Mitchell, 38, of Blanchard, Okla. “But that’s really only one of the few things I disagree with her on. I voted for her.”