Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton remains the favoured choice for her partymen though the number of Democrats who feel rival Barak Obama is the "strongest candidate" against Republicans has doubled after his surprise victory in Iowa, a new poll has found.
Republican voters have sharply altered their views of the party's presidential candidates, with Senator John McCain, once widely written off, now viewed more favourably than any of his major competitors, according to the latest nationwide New York Times/CBS News Poll.
The poll showed a more stable Democratic race. Among Democratic primary voters nationally, Clinton, who made a comepback in New Hampshiore after the Iowa loss, remains the favorite of 42 per cent, compared with 27 per cent backing Obama — essentially unchanged since December. John Edwards remains in third place at 11 per cent.
But, the Times says, there were auspicious signs for Obama as the contest moves to the South, where blacks account for a large share of the Democratic primary electorate.
About half of black Democratic primary voters — 49 per cent — said they planned to vote for Obama, while 34 per cent said they backed Clinton.
Among white Democratic primary voters, 42 per cent said they were supporting Clinton, while 24 per cent said they backed Obama.
But Clinton and Obama are now viewed by Democrats as almost equally qualified on a variety of measures, including the ability to serve as commander in chief, the poll shows.
The findings underscored the extraordinary volatility in the Republican race and suggest that the party is continuing to search for a nominee whom it could rally around.
Thirty-three percent of Republican primary voters in the poll named McCain, of Arizona, as their choice, up from 7 per cent a month ago. Mike Huckabee, whose favorability ratings jumped after he won in Iowa, was the choice of 18 per cent of Republican primary voters.
Rudolph W Giuliani, who is focusing his campaign on later contests, had the most precipitous fall; he was the choice of 10 per cent of Republican voters, down from 22 per cent last month. Support for other candidates was in single digits.
McCain, a longtime maverick in his own party, was named by Republican primary voters in the survey as the candidate most likely to win his party's nomination.
The survey showed that Democratic voters see Obama and Clinton as evenly matched on several leadership qualities, despite the efforts of both camps to draw distinctions. Virtually the same percentages of Democrats said Clinton and Obama could unify the country and bring about “real change.” Both were given high marks as potential commanders in chief.
Still, the Times says, there are signs of resistance to another Clinton administration. Thirty-eight percent said they thought it was bad for two families — the Bushes and the Clintons — to hold the presidency for so long.