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CNN poll: Voters say both candidates flip-flop

  • Story Highlights
  • New CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll covers likability, sticking to opinions
  • Poll says 63 percent like Obama, compared to 59 percent who like McCain
  • 61 percent say McCain has changed his mind for political reasons
  • 59 percent say Obama also shifts positions with the political winds
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From Alan Silverleib
CNN Senior Political Researcher
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- How do voters feel about the two major-party presidential candidates this year?

As the marathon 2008 campaign for the White House enters its final four months, a solid majority views Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain favorably.

At the same time, a majority of voters polled also believes both men are flip-floppers who will change their opinions for political reasons. Voters are also skeptical that either man will be able to end the partisan gridlock in Washington.

According to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey, 63 percent of registered voters polled have a favorable opinion of Democrat Obama, while 59 percent have a favorable opinion of Republican McCain. Roughly one-third of voters hold a negative view of both candidates.

Compared to President Bush, whose approval ratings continue to hover around 30 percent, both candidates are seen in a remarkably positive light. Judged against the favorable ratings of past presidential nominees at this stage of the campaign, however, Obama and McCain are registering typical favorability numbers. Video Watch more on voters views of the candidates »

"In previous elections we have often seen both candidates get favorable ratings over 50 percent at this stage," said Keating Holland, CNN polling director. "In midsummer, both parties tend to be unified behind their candidates, but the negative ads have generally not yet started."

The poll also shows both candidates improving on their perceived weak points. The number of voters polled who think Obama has enough experience to be president has increased by eight points since March (40 percent to 48 percent), while the number of voters who say McCain cares about people like themselves has increased by seven points (51 percent to 58 percent).

McCain, however, still holds a sizeable advantage over Obama on the issue of experience, with 76 percent of those polled saying the Arizona senator has the right experience to be president.

Obama, on the other hand, continues to hold a significant edge on the question of caring, with 67 percent of poll respondents saying the Illinois senator "cares about people like you."

Do voters believe the two presumed presidential nominees are willing to stick to their principles regardless of the political consequences? Not exactly.

Sixty-one percent of voters polled said McCain has changed his mind for political reasons; 37 percent said he has not. Fifty-nine percent of those polled said Obama also shifts positions with the political winds; 38 percent said he does not.

That's a change from 2004, Holland said.

"One of the reasons President Bush won re-election in 2004 was that only one-third of voters believed he would change his policy positions because of changing political dynamics. Most voters, on the other hand, believed that John Kerry was a flip-flopper."

As the general election continues to heat up, charges of flip-flopping and political opportunism are becoming more regular on the campaign trail.

On Tuesday, while en route to Colombia, McCain argued, "I don't switch my position depending on what audience or what time it is in the electoral calendar.... I believe that [voters] will more and more see where Sen. Obama has switched his positions on fundamental issues. The one thing they want is trust and confidence in their leadership, and I think I will win in that area."

Campaigning Thursday in North Dakota, Obama replied by saying that McCain "is a person who opposed Bush's tax cuts before he was for them, who opposed drilling in the continental shelf before he was for [it]. [McCain] has reversed himself on a range of very substantive issues during the course of this campaign, and so I'd be happy to have a debate about consistency with John McCain."

According to Bill Schneider, CNN senior political analyst , the flip-flopping charge may not resonate as much with voters this year as it did in the past.

"So what if voters think both candidates are flip-floppers?" asked Schneider. "After eight years of George W. Bush, voters may welcome some pragmatism and flexibility in their leaders. Times change."

The latest CNN poll results indicate that, regardless of who wins in November, most Americans do not believe the bitter partisanship that has characterized national politics in recent years will come to an end.

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Only 43 percent of those polled said Obama can end the partisan gridlock if he is elected; 52 percent said he can't. Thirty-one percent said Sen. McCain can end the gridlock; 64 percent said he can't.

The poll, conducted June 26-29, surveyed 906 registered voters and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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