(CNSNews.com) - A string of polls conducted by the Suffolk University Political Research Center over the past month--in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and, now, West Virginia--show that roughly 20 percent of Democratic primary voters are ready to vote for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in November if their choice candidate isn't the nominee.
The latest survey, which questioned 600 likely voters in Tuesday's West Virginia Democratic presidential primary, shows Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) trouncing Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the national front-runner, by 36 points in West Virginia, 60 percent to 24 percent.
Obama may be his party's presumptive nominee, but the Suffolk University poll indicates it is unlikely he can carry this battleground state that Democrats have won in eight of the last 12 presidential elections.
The poll shows that almost a quarter of Democratic voters in the state (23 percent) say they will vote for Republican nominee McCain in November if their candidate loses the nomination battle. (See Poll ). Only 40 percent now say they will vote for the Democratic Party's eventual nominee no matter what happens in the primaries, while nearly a third said they would be undecided. Six percent say they will support independent candidate Ralph Nader.
That significant numbers of Democrats across a wide swath of northern states are saying they will shift their support to McCain in the general election if their first choice does not win the Democratic nomination could mean real trouble for the Democrats in November, said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center.
"You want to know what the leakage is among Democratic voters," Paleologos told Cybercast News Service . "It's still around 20 percent. That is, in the four or five states we've asked this question, each time it's about 20 percent or more, sometimes higher, where registered Democrat voters are saying they will vote for McCain in the general election. That's a big problem."
He said West Virginia is likely leaning Republican in the presidential race this year, but far from a certainty. He said Clinton would have been a long shot to pick up West Virginia, but "Obama would be a remote shot or a longer shot."
"In 2000, Al Gore won 72 percent of West Virginia Democratic primary voters and lost the state's general election to George W. Bush by six percent," Paleologos said. "In 2004, John Kerry won 69 percent of West Virginia Democratic primary voters and lost the general election to George Bush by 13 percent. If Barack Obama can't even garner 30 percent of West Virginia Democratic primary voters, what does that say about the West Virginia general election."
A Pennsylvania poll done by a separate polling firm in March showed similar results, indicating that 19 percent of Pennsylvania Clinton supporters said they would vote for McCain in November, while 20 percent of Obama supporters said they would vote for the Republican.
Democratic Party insiders have publicly expressed concern that the long primary campaign between Obama and Clinton could hurt the party in the fall, particularly since McCain wrapped up his party's nomination in February. Both Obama and Clinton, however, have said they believe the party will unify behind whoever the nominee is in November.
"No doubt the party heals. The question is, can the party heal from 60 percent to 80 percent?" Paleologos said. "Healing just 60 percent to 75 percent of the party in Ohio is going to matter in a general election. I don't think people have adequately quantified how much healing is needed."
"You can't go after independents in October if you haven't healed the Democratic Party," Paleologos said.
The Suffolk poll could be welcome to Clinton, who has been facing pressure to withdraw. She has argued that she is a stronger general election candidate against McCain. Sixty-seven percent of the Democratic primary voters in West Virginia told the pollsters that they support Clinton's decision to remain in the primary contest against Obama and do not think it's harming the party.
In one bit of good news for Obama, 51 percent of West Virginia Democrats surveyed believed Obama could beat McCain in November. Still, 29 percent don't think he can win.
West Virginia Democrats also are apparently undeterred by the predictions of pundits that Obama already has the nomination wrapped up. When asked who they thought would be the next president - regardless of who they supported - 31 percent said Clinton, 27 percent said Obama and 26 percent said McCain.
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