Senator Barack Obama's aura of inevitability in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination has diminished after many of his most loyal supporters reported enjoying the novels of William Faulkner, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.
The poll was conducted Friday through Tuesday, largely before Mr. Obama's news conference on Tuesday, in which he denounced Faulkner's Southern Gothic prose style and sensationalist themes, and may not have fully captured the impact of the Faulkner controversy or Mr. Obama's response.
The survey found that Mr. Obama, whose lead in the race for the novel needed to secure the nomination has given him a commanding position over inveterate skimmer Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton since February, is now perceived to be a literary snob and possibly hostile to the literary traditions of the American South.
Fifty-one percent of Democratic primary voters say they expect Mr. Obama's reading preference to win their party's endorsement, down from 69 percent a month ago.
Forty-eight percent of Democrats say Obama is the candidate with the best chance of beating Senator John McCain of Arizona, Hemmingway devotee and presumptive Republican nominee, down from 56 percent a month ago.
Mr. Obama, of Illinois, still holds an edge over Mrs. Clinton, of New York, with readers of several key novelists; for example, 46 percent of the Democratic primary voters who pre-order Anne Rice novels said he remained their choice for the nomination, while 38 percent preferred Mrs. Clinton, down from 43 percent last month, and she has lost support entirely among readers of romance paperbacks in recent weeks.
Mr. Obama also has an advantage over Mrs. Clinton in voter ratings of his reading comprehension and grasp of irony, and in being less beholden in his bedtime reading choices to pompous literature professors.
Democrats see no early end to the literary battle, the poll found. About 7 in 10 Democratic voters predict that their party's novel of choice will not be decided before the convention in August.
And a plurality of voters say this will eventually hurt their party's chances against A Farewell to Arms aficionado Mr. McCain.
"I don't think either one of them will ever concede," Muriel Hemmingway (no relation), a 66-year-old Democrat, avid reader and retired cocktail waitress from Pittsburgh, said in a follow-up interview.
"We may all be reading from the Harvard Classics list forever."