FDU poll: Clinton polarizes likely primary voters

Sen. Hillary Clinton is the candidate New Jersey voters say they would be most likely to support in the general election, according to a new study from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind.

She's also the candidate voters here are most unlikely to support, according to the same poll.

In a survey conducted from Jan. 14 through Jan. 20, likely primary voters, regardless of party affiliation, were asked who among the field of candidates they are most likely and most unlikely to support for president. "Clinton tops both lists with 25 and 27%, respectively," according to the poll.

In descending order, New Jerseyans are most likely to support Barack Obama (18%), John McCain (10%), and Rudy Giuliani (8%). After Clinton’s 27%, Giuliani (17%) and Mike Huckabee (13%) top the list of candidates that likely voters here say they will not support.

"The fact that Senator Clinton tops the lists of likely and unlikely candidates is a reflection of her often polarizing effect on people," said Krista Jenkins, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University and survey analyst with PublicMind. "As has often been the case since her entrance into public life, Senator Clinton elicits strong opinions from people – both positive and negative – and what we see here is proof of both the unique support and opposition that her candidacy brings."

Professor Peter Woolley, director of the polling operation at Fairleigh Dickinson, noted after the New Hampshire primary that any poll conducted in January would have to be considered a snapshot subject to change as candidates in an open field in both parties continue to jockey for position.

"It was good for Giuliani that McCain won New Hampshire, primarily because it hurts Romney but Giuliani and McCain overlap seriously on the national security question," said Woolley. "How Giuliani does in Florida is vital to how he’s perceived in New Jersey."

Of Clinton’s lead over Obama in New Jersey, "I don’t think she’s a lock," Woolley said "The New Jersey electorate appears to be somewhat fluid, and as Barack Obama has had more exposure, he attracts more attention. They expected him not to run a first class operation, but he’s done very well. In any case, New Jersey matters."

Among those who chose Clinton as their most favored candidate, more than half (52%) say that it’s her "stance on the issues" that they find the most appealing.

"These numbers are good for Senator Clinton," said Jenkins. "When a majority of supporters clearly identify issues as the major reason for their support, it means that she is communicating her message effectively. She can build on this strength in order to attract more supporters."

But when it comes to understanding what drives opposition to Senator Clinton, her detractors are evenly divided over whether they most dislike her issue positions (30%), personal qualities (33%), or both (32%).

FDU poll: Clinton polarizes likely primary voters