WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats appear to be rallying around Hillary Rodham Clinton after her command performance in the party's first presidential debate, with strong majorities viewing her favorably and more saying she can win the White House than any of her rivals, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows.
The survey released Tuesday finds that Clinton has regained traction in the 2016 primary contest following a summer slump, with nearly 8 in 10 Democrats saying they have a positive opinion of her. That's a slight uptick for Clinton, eight points better than the last time the question was asked in an AP-GfK poll in July.
To the extent that there is a desire for an alternative to Clinton in the Democratic field, the poll finds that Vice President Joe Biden appears more able to provide it than the insurgent campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Nearly 7 in 10 Democrats said they had a favorable view of Biden, who has spent months weighing whether to jump into the race. Only about half of Democrats say that about Sanders.
Sanders isn't necessarily unpopular among Democrats, but the longtime political independent is still not well known. A third said they don't know enough about him to have a favorable or an unfavorable opinion.
It's not just Democrats who view Clinton as a possible winner. Three quarters of Americans think Clinton could win in a general election, including two-thirds of Republicans.
By comparison, 56 percent of Americans think Biden could win and just 44 percent think Sanders could claim the White House.
Meanwhile, less than half of Americans said they think any of the Republican candidates for president could win in a general election.
Among Democrats, 9 in 10 think it would be possible for Clinton to win if she were the nominee, while 7 in 10 say the same of Biden.
"Joe Biden should stay on the sidelines, he's better that way," said Alonzon McClendon, a 57-year-old warehouse manager in Dallas. "Clinton is more qualified."
Democrats are split on whether Sanders could win the election, with 52 percent saying he could and 46 percent saying he could not.
The gains for Clinton come after months of enduring criticism for her use of a private email account and server while serving as President Barack Obama's first secretary of state.
The survey was conducted Oct. 15-19, after the first Democratic debate, and her strong showing there — the first of three high-profile events for Clinton this month — appears to have helped reassure supporters worried about the state of her campaign.
On Thursday, Clinton is scheduled to testify before the House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.
Clinton plans to use the hearing as an opportunity to lay out her foreign policy credentials, emphasizing the importance of so-called "smart power" — using diplomacy to achieve gains in dangerous regions without traditional military action.
A Clinton aide said her goal is to draw a sharp contrast with Republicans, who they expect will focus on her emails. The aide said she plans to respond by stressing her personal relationship with Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya who died in the attacks.
The aide spoke on condition of anonymity, because the person was not authorized to publicly discuss internal campaign strategy.
On Saturday, Clinton and Sanders head to Des Moines for the Iowa Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner, an annual meeting of influential activists that helped then-Sen. Barack Obama find his footing in the 2008 race.
Biden is not scheduled to appear at the event as he continued to ponder whether he's ready for a presidential run after the spring death of his son, Beau.
After weeks of public indecision, 62 percent of Democrats say they consider Biden very or somewhat decisive, compared to 77 percent for Clinton and 54 percent for Sanders.
Biden leads Clinton among Democrats on which candidate is perceived as most likable, 77 percent to 69 percent. About equal numbers — more than 7 in 10 — consider Biden and Clinton to be at least somewhat compassionate.
Sanders trails both on those measures, with 55 percent of Democrats rating him as likable and 56 percent as compassionate.
Democrats are also more likely to describe Biden than Clinton as very or somewhat honest, 72 percent to 60 percent. At the same time, more than seven out of ten find Clinton "inspiring" and more than 8 out of 10 say she is competent — giving her a notable lead over both Biden and Sanders in those characteristics.
In a contrast with the Republican primary field, which has been marked by the rise of candidates with little governmental experience, two-thirds of Democratic voters say they prefer someone who has experience in Washington over an outsider.
"The system is broken and it doesn't work well, but I don't think a person who comes with no experience can fix it," said Joyce Tally, 67, a retiree from Vilonia, Arkansas. "Clinton is experienced. She's qualified."
The AP-GfK Poll of 1,027 adults was conducted online October 15 to October 19, using a sample drawn from GfK's probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.