Voters see gas tax suspension as political ploy

A majority of voters surveyed by The New York Times see the gas tax suspension supported by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain as just another political ploy and most also say the uproar over the relationship between Sen. Barack Obama and his pastor doesn’t change their opinion of the Democratic Presidential frontrunner.

However, voters also feel questions about Obama could affect how voters cast their ballots in the November General Election.

Adam Nagourney and Marjorie Connelly report in Sunday’s Times:

A majority of American voters say that the furor over the relationship between Senator Barack Obama and his former pastor has not affected their opinion of Mr. Obama, but a substantial number say that it could influence voters this fall should he be the Democratic presidential nominee, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

At the same time, an overwhelming majority of voters said candidates calling for the suspension of the federal gasoline tax this summer were acting to help themselves politically, rather than to help ordinary Americans. Mr. Obama’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, has made the suspension of the gas tax a centerpiece of her campaign in recent days.

In the survey, taken in the days leading up to the primaries on Tuesday in Indiana and North Carolina, Americans were divided over the merits of the gasoline-tax suspension, which has also been backed by the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, and condemned by Mr. Obama as political gimmickry.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama spent the final Sunday before the two primaries debating the gas-tax holiday and other issues on morning talk shows and in events across Indiana.

The poll, conducted after Mr. Obama held a news conference on Tuesday in which he renounced his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., for making incendiary comments, found that most Americans said they approved of the way Mr. Obama had responded to the episode and considered his criticism of Mr. Wright appropriate.

But nearly half of the voters surveyed, and a substantial part of the Democrats, said Mr. Obama had acted mainly because he thought it would help him politically, rather than because he had serious disagreements with his former pastor. The broader effect of the controversy on Mr. Obama’s candidacy among Democratic primary voters was less clear in the poll, but enough of them expressed qualms about Mr. Obama’s relationship with Mr. Wright to suggest it could sway a relatively small but potentially important group of voters in the remaining primaries.

The relatively small number of Democrats surveyed limits the conclusions that can be drawn about the poll’s findings regarding sentiment in the party. Moreover, as a national poll, it does not necessarily reflect the thoughts of voters in Indiana and North Carolina.