Economy Keeps Clinton in Democratic Favor

Hillary Clinton retains a narrow lead over Barack Obama among Democratic voters nationwide, helped in part by her advantage on economic issues, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

In the poll, Mrs. Clinton draws 47 percent support from Democrats to 43 percent for Mr. Obama, who leads in delegates won in primaries and caucuses so far this year. That's down from her 53 percent to 37 percent lead in January.

The survey shows that the slumping economy remains the dominant issue in the election, with 50 percent rating it as a top priority; 42 percent identify Iraq, while another 29 percent point to health care.

Moreover, a 43 percent plurality of Americans say their families are worse off than they were four years ago, compared to 34 percent who say they're better off. At a similar point in the 2004 campaign, a 42 percent plurality said they were better off; in 2000, a robust 62 percent majority said they were better off. The survey of 1,102 registered voters, conducted March 7-10 in the wake of Mrs. Clinton's Ohio and Texas primary wins, has a margin for error of 3.1 percentage points.

Mrs. Clinton holds an edge over Mr. Obama on the two top economic issues. By 50 -23 percent, Democrats say Mrs. Clinton rather than Mr. Obama would be better handling health care, and by 37 -27 percent they say she'd be better handling jobs and the economy.

The poll shows that economic troubles as President Bush prepares to leave office are holding down his own standing and that of his party. Mr. Bush's overall job approval rating remains at 32 percent, while 63 percent disapprove; just 28 percent approve his handling of the economy.

The bottom line: by 50 to 37 percent, Americans say they want a Democrat elected to succeed Mr. Bush; by 49 to 35 percent, they want Democrats to control Congress.

Polls & Politics

Still, the survey shows that the public's positive views of Republican candidate John McCain give him a chance in the general election. 47 percent of Americans rate Mr. McCain favorably, while just 27 percent have negative views. That's almost as robust as Mr. Obama's 51 percent favorable, 28 percent unfavorable marks. Mrs. Clinton is rate positively by slightly fewer Americans, 45 percent, but her negative marks are substantially higher at 43 percent.