Though the real election is nine months away, Sen. Barack Obama would fare slightly better than Sen. Hillary Clinton in a head to head match-up with Sen. John McCain if the general election were held today, a new TIME poll reveals.
Obama captured 48% of the vote in the theoretical match-up against McCain's 41%, the TIME poll reported, while Clinton and McCain would deadlock at 46% of the vote each. Put another way, McCain looks at the moment to have a narrowly better chance of beating the New York Senator than he does the relative newcomer from Illinois.
The difference, says Mark Schulman, CEO of Abt SRBI, which conducted the poll for TIME, is that "independents tilt toward McCain when he is matched up against Clinton But they tilt toward Obama when he is matched up against the Illinois Senator." Independents, added Schulman, "are a key battleground."
For much of the year, Democrats have enjoyed a wide margin over any Republican rival in theoretical match-ups. Those margins have begun to shrink in recent weeks.
According to the new poll, Democratic voters favor Clinton over Obama for the Democratic nomination by a margin of 48% to 42%.
Seventy percent of the voters polled by TIME said Bill Clinton's recent performance on the campaign trail had "no influence" on whether they were more or less likely to vote for his wife. Nineteen percent of voters said Clinton's recent comments made them less likely to vote for her; nine percent of voters said it made them more likely to vote for her.
The poll also sampled all voters' views of several possible vice presidential choices and their various impacts on a potential race. According to the survey results, 62% of likely voters want Hillary Clinton to name Obama as her running mate. By contrast, only 51% of the same voters want Obama to return the favor. The same voters, by a margin of 55% to 11%, believed that Obama would help rather than hurt Clinton's chances were he to become her running mate. If Obama tapped Clinton as his running mate, that margin shifted, with 38% saying it would help his chances and 31% saying it would hurt.
The survey of nearly 1,000 likely registered voters was conducted February 1 through February 4, before Super Tuesday and the departure from the Republican race of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.