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NBC-WSJ poll: New Clinton lows

From NBC's Chuck Todd
As expected, one of the two major Democratic candidates saw a downturn in the latest NBC/WSJ poll, but it's not the candidate that you think. Hillary Clinton is sporting the lowest personal ratings of the campaign. Moreover, her 37 percent positive rating is the lowest the NBC/WSJ poll has recorded since March 2001, two months after she was elected to the U.S. Senate from New York.

The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday this week by Hart-McInturff and surveyed 700 registered voters, which gives the poll a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percent. In addition, we oversampled African-Americans in order to get a more reliable cross-tab on many of the questions we asked in this poll regarding Sen. Barack Obama's speech on race and overall response to last week's Rev. Jeremiah Wright dustup. (Watch Tim Russert's analysis of the poll results.)

On that issue specifically, 32 percent of voters overall said Obama "sufficiently addressed the issue," while 26 percent of folks believe he needs to address the Wright controversy further; 31 percent did not see the speech or had no opinion.

Interestingly, of those voters who said they saw the speech, 47 percent said Obama sufficiently addressed the Wright issue while 37 percent said he needs to address it further. Among whites, 45 percent were satisfied with Obama's explanation, 38 percent were not. Among blacks, 67 percent said the speech was sufficient, while 25 percent want him to address it further.

Overall, 55 percent of voters told us that they were "disturbed" by the videos of Wright that circulated so widely on cable TV and the Internet.

As for the damage this controversy did or didn't do to Obama, it's a mixed bag. Yes, Obama saw some of his numbers go down slightly among certain voting groups, most notably Republicans. But he's still much more competitive with independent voters when matched up against John McCain than Hillary Clinton is. And he still sports a net-positive personal rating of 49-32, which is down only slightly from two weeks ago, when it was 51-28. Again, the biggest shift in those negative numbers were among Republicans.

On one of the most critical questions we've been tracking for a few months, Obama showed resilience. When asked if the three presidential candidates could be successful in uniting the country if they were elected president, 60 percent of all voters believed Obama could be successful at doing this, 58 percent of all voters said McCain could unite the country while only 46 percent of voters said the same about Clinton. All three candidates saw dips on this issue, by the way. In January, 67 percent thought Obama could unite the country; 68 percent thought McCain could do it; and 55 percent said Clinton would be able to pull it off.  

The fact that all three dropped equally in the last three months is a sign that the campaign is becoming more ideological and partisan.

In the head-to-head matchups, there weren't huge shifts in the numbers, with Obama and Clinton dead even at 45 percent in the national Democratic primary matchup (a slight increase for Obama from early March). In the general-election matchups, Obama led McCain by 2 points, and McCain led Clinton by 2 points; all margin of error results and nothing to get too excited over.

One thing about these head-to-head matchups: Our pollsters found that for the second poll in a row, more than 20 percent of Clinton and Obama supporters say they would support McCain when he's matched up against the other Democrat. There is clearly some hardening of feelings among some of the most core supporters of both Democrats, though it may be Obama voters, who are more bitter in the long run.

Why? Because among Obama voters, Clinton has a net-negative personal rating (35-43) while Clinton voters have a net-positive view of Obama (50-29). Taken together, this appears to be evidence that Obama, intially, should have the easier time uniting the party than Clinton.

Considering the doom-and-gloom some predicted for Obama with regard to the Wright controversy, the overall tenor of the electorate appears to still be favorable for him. He's mortal, but he's survived ... for now. It's not clear whether he'd be this resilient if another controversy exploded as big as Wright, but it appears that voters are giving him the benefit of doubt. There's lots of evidence inside these numbers that voters still would like to know more about Obama, and that is both an opportunity and a potential obstacle.