A few days removed from the Christmas Break and the Democratic race for the presidential nomination is as tight as ever.
In a recently released Bloomberg/LA Time's poll, Sen, Hillary Clinton was up three percentage points in Iowa over rival Sen. Barack Obama, 29 percent to 26 percent respectively. The two were closely trailed by former Sen. John Edwards, who registered with 25 percent support in the first-in-the-nation state.
In New Hampshire, which follows Iowa on the electoral map, Obama finds himself in the lead with 32 percent to Clinton's 30 percent. Edwards trailed the bunch with 18 percent support. In both states Obama and Clinton are within the survey's margin of error.
"Democratic voters are having a conversation with themselves on what they want more in this election,'' says Susan Pinkus, the Los Angeles Times polling director. ``If they choose Obama it's about personal characteristics, whereas for Clinton it's her leadership on issues.''
The findings provide a stark contrast to a recent American Research Group poll which showed the New York Senator with a 15 percentage point lead over her Democratic counterparts. The findings of the ARG study were called into question in part because of the survey's methodology (addressed, in depth, here) but mainly because it showed such a deviation from the normal polling trends
The Bloomberg/LA Times poll, which was conducted before and after, but not during, Christmas, shows that Iowa and New Hampshire voters view Clinton as the most experienced and qualified, but also the least honest of the Democratic presidential candidates. Obama, in contrast, is viewed as the more honest candidate and an agent of change but scores poor marks on experience. In Iowa, Edwards received higher marks than Clinton for candor and integrity but did not match up with Obama on "most personal traits or as Clinton on most of the policy issues."
The poll was conducted before Thursday's assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
On the Republican side, the Bloomberg/LA Times poll shows a presidential race in disarray. In Iowa, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has 37 percent support among voters, polling fourteen percentage points ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. In New Hampshire, however, Romney has opened up a 13-percentage point margin with Arizona Senator John McCain, 34 percent to 21 percent respectively.
Religion, not surprisingly, is playing a major role. As the survey's authors note:
In Iowa, Republicans by almost 3 to 1 say Huckabee's religious beliefs are a positive factor. Almost half of these Iowa voters say Romney's Mormon faith is a negative."