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What voters really want

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Samantha Hayes, Washington, D.C.

March 18, 2008

     The Presidential candidates spend a lot of time talking about what they would do if in January 2009, they are in the Oval Office.  Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama point out differences in each other's health care proposals, and plans for troop withdrawal from Iraq. Tuesday they both talked about the state of the economy and what they would do to fix it.  John McCain, the Republican nominee-in-waiting, has been in Iraq this week and says he was right about last Spring's troop surge while his Democratic rivals were wrong.

     But while the candidates go back and forth over the issues, voters are making other kinds of judgments about them, which go beyond their feelings about policy positions. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll asked 1,019 Americans over the weekend about the candidates' personal characteristics.  The results look something like a report after three job interviews.

     Barack Obama scored the highest, 56%, on his perceived ability to bring the kind of change the country needs. Hillary Clinton was second with 49%, John McCain third at 39%.

     Obama also ranks highest when people are asked which candidate cares about them and agrees with them on the issues they care about.  And a larger percentage says they would be proud to have him as president.

     But when it comes to decisive and strong leadership, Republican John McCain leads the pack 65% to Clinton's 63% and Barack Obama's 59%.  The poll shows 68% believe McCain also has the right experience to be President.  Obama was a distant third in that category.

     While Americans seem to be hungry for strong leadership, they also want a candidate with a vision for the country's future and the poll suggests those characteristics don't necessarily go together. 65% believe McCain is a strong and decisive leader, but when it comes to vision, he scored last.

     With a close race on the Democratic side, the nomination contests so far may indicate that voters are having trouble with decisiveness themselves, and in some cases would like to blend some of the characteristics of their two remaining candidates.  If they could just find somebody with, say, enough experience AND the ability to bring change, wouldn't that be perfect?

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