NEW YORK • As the first nominating contest approaches, Mrs Hillary Clinton's commanding lead nationally in the Democratic primary has largely melted away, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
The tightened race between Mrs Clinton and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders is revealing a sharp generational divide within the Democratic Party, with primary voters under 45 favouring Sanders by about two to one.
Yet more than seven in 10 Democratic voters - including most supporters of Mr Sanders - still believe Mrs Clinton will ultimately win the party's nomination.
Voters expressed deeper confidence in her ability to be an effective commander-in-chief, and more of her supporters say their minds are made up compared with Mr Sanders' backers.
Overall, 48 per cent of Democratic primary voters across the country support Mrs Clinton, while 41 per cent back Mr Sanders, the poll found. Just a month ago, she led Mr Sanders by 20 percentage points nationally.
48% - Percentage of Democratic primary voters who support Mrs Clinton
41% - Percentage of Democratic primary voters who support Mr Sanders
I like Bernie's sincerity," said Mr Dalton Paget, 27, an insurance agent from Spokane, Washington. "He's talking about working towards policies that he's been championing for a long time."
In particular, Mr Paget cited Mr Sanders' aim of overhauling the campaign finance system.
Mr Sanders' shifting fortunes underscore the unsettled state of the presidential race in both parties with just three weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Previous contests have seen candidates rise and fall in the weeks before the first votes were cast, and national polls at this stage are not necessarily predictive of the outcome of the months-long nominating battle.
Mrs Clinton is no longer treating Mr Sanders as a distant rival. She is now confronting the senator more forcefully, raising doubts about his electability and criticising him as weak on the issue of gun violence.
There is less apparent movement in the Republican contest, where Mr Donald Trump maintains a sizeable lead among Republican primary voters nationally. Thirty-six per cent support him, compared with 19 per cent for Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and 12 per cent for Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Mr Trump's support is roughly the same as it was a month ago.
Only about one-third of Republican primary voters who back a candidate say their minds are made up. But most Trump supporters - 52 per cent - say they have decided. A narrow majority of Republican primary voters say they expect Mr Trump to be the party's nominee, similar to the finding of last month's poll.
Mr Trump and Mr Cruz run closely among very conservative voters, but Mr Trump now leads among evangelicals 42 per cent to 25 per cent.
"He's got money so he's not going to try to do what's best for him. He's going to try his best to create jobs and he's going to shut out the refugees," said Mr Kevin Jarrell, 41, from Ohio, who said he was a born-again Christian.
But Mr Trump trails his top two rivals on whether he possesses the right kind of personality to be a good president. Half of Republican primary voters say he does, while about two-thirds say the same of Mr Cruz and Mr Rubio.
The Times/CBS News poll was conducted from Jan 7 to Jan 10 on cellphones and landlines. It included 442 Republican primary voters and 389 Democratic primary voters, with a margin error of plus or minus six points.
NEW YORK TIMES