The Washington Post Democrats are divided over the direction of their party and sharply split over whether party leaders should be more willing to confront President Bush or compromise with him on the Iraq war, taxes and the budget deficit, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
The survey also found that the race for the Democratic presidential nomination remains wide open. No clear front-runner has emerged among the field of nine candidates, each of whom remains largely unknown to an overwhelming majority of the party rank-and-file.
With war and economic worries jeopardizing Bush's standing with the public, electability has emerged as a key criterion for many Democrats as they evaluate their party's contenders. Barely half -- 53 percent -- said they preferred a candidate who closely reflected their positions on key issues, while 42 percent say they would prefer a nominee who was better able to defeat Bush, even if the candidate was further from them on policy questions.
But when asked which of the contenders had the best chance of winning next year, these Democrats scattered across the field -- more evidence the nomination remains up for grabs with less than three months to go before the Iowa caucuses.
Most Democrats agree that the economy and jobs is the most important issue in determining their choice for the nominee. But that consensus vanishes when voters are asked which candidate they favor, as once again, no contender emerges as the clear favorite even among economy-minded Democrats.
A total of 1,003 randomly selected adults were interviewed Oct. 26-29 for this Post-ABC News survey. A separate sample of Democrats brought the total of Democrats interviewed to 642. The margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus 3 percentage points and 4 percentage points for the Democratic subsample.
The survey found that Democrats remain far more divided about the direction of their party than Republicans. According to the poll, 57 percent of all Democrats but 74 percent of all Republicans said the leadership of their party was taking it in the right direction. Much of this dissatisfaction comes from the most vulnerable part of the Democratic base: those who think of themselves as independent but tend to vote Democratic. Among this group, exactly half said they were happy with the course party leaders had set. Less partisan men were particularly displeased; about as many expressed discontent (43 percent) as said they were satisfied (39 percent).
In contrast, independents who tend toward the GOP were just as content with the party's direction as the partisan core.