11/13/2009 11:11 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Continetti's unlikely case for Palin

Least plausible political argument I've seen today -- Matthew Continetti's Wall Street Journal op-ed claiming
Sarah Palin's "poll numbers among independents are strong enough to give her a chance" to make a comeback (coincidentally, he wrote a book defending her). Here's the key passage on Palin's poll numbers:

Ms. Palin's unpopularity--the result of horrendous media coverage and her role as the McCain campaign's pitbull--is a major political obstacle. Her unfavorable rating hovers around 50%, the point at which most politicians would reach for the Valium.

An October Gallup poll put Ms. Palin's favorable number at 40%, her lowest rating to date. In a November Gallup survey, 63% of all voters said they wouldn't seriously consider supporting her for the presidency.

Yet Ms. Palin isn't as unpopular as John Edwards, and she has a higher approval rating than Nancy Pelosi. As Hillary Clinton's career shows, public perception changes over time. Ms. Palin remains highly popular among Republicans (69% favorable). But the Democrats' striking antipathy to the former governor--she has a 72% unfavorable rating among them--drives down her overall approval.

Independents are a different story. These are the folks who decide presidential elections, and they are divided on Ms. Palin. In last month's Gallup poll, Ms. Palin had a 48% unfavorable and 41% favorable rating among independents. Not good, but not insurmountable. Flip those percentages, and they could be serving moose burgers in the White House in 2013.

What drives independents' uncertainty is their feeling that Ms. Palin isn't up to the job. Independents blanch at her perceived lack of expertise on issues unrelated to energy or abortion. They look at Ms. Palin's disappointing interview with Katie Couric last year, or laugh at Tina Fey's impression on "Saturday Night Live." Her resignation--still not fully explained--stokes their worst fears.

Continetti goes on to outline a strategy that he believes Palin could use to rehabilitate her image. But Palin's reputational problems are more profound than he admits. As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, perceptions of Palin's qualifications for the presidency are shockingly low for a former presidential/VP nominee -- there's been no one comparable to her since Dan Quayle. As such, while it may be true that independents are "divided" in their feelings toward Palin (41% favorable, 48% unfavorable), they tilt heavily toward viewing her as unqualified. Continetti doesn't mention any polls on the subject, but a Gallup survey released last week found that only 28% of independents (and 58% of Republicans!) believe Palin is qualified to be president -- significantly lower than the other prominent Republicans included in the survey (Huckabee, Romney, Gingrich). Given how much people already know about her and how much negative attention she draws from Democrats and the press, it's extremely unlikely she will turn around those numbers. In other words, keep the moose burgers on ice.

PS Note to Continetti: It's a bad sign when you have to clarify that Palin is more popular with John Edwards, a man who cheated on his wife while she was battling cancer.

Update 11/18 9:46 AM: This post was cited in a Christian Science Monitor story on Palin's 2012 prospects.

(Cross-posted to