07/09/2009 04:17 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

More on Palin and Her 'Outside the Base' Challenge

One more Palin update: The new national survey from PPP released yesterday was the first to track Sarah Palin's favorable rating since the surprise resignation announcement last weekend. As suspected, they show little or no change. Her overall rating on PPP's automated survey of registered voters is now 46% favorable, 45% unfavorable, which is actually a few points better than their last measurement (although the difference is not big enough to be statistically significant).


Here are the same numbers in chart form. The favorable line does hint at a slight, year-long improvement although, again, we are looking at just five data points so it is possible that random noise made the March favorable percentage a little too low and this latest rating a little too high.


We can also plot the favorable percentages by party. Given the greater potential for random noise, I do not see much in the way of a trend in these results.


PPP also included a question about Palin's readiness for higher office: "Do you think that Sarah Palin is fit to be President?" As John Sides noted last night, the 37% who said yes is comparable to the 35% to 43% who considered her qualified in October 2008, as plotted by Charles in a post on Tuesday. Since PPP's automated calling and registered-voter-list sampling are unique among national media pollsters, and since their wording differs -- PPP asked if she is "fit" while the others used the words "qualified" or "prepared" -- I thought it would be valuable to see the full text and sample information for each of the late 2008 polls. You can decide for yourself how comparable PPP's question is to the results from last Fall.


These results also underscore how much work Palin needs to do to improve perceptions of her readiness "outside the base," as Charles puts it. Barack Obama certainly faced doubts about his relative inexperience during the 2008 campaign, but none as significant as what Palin now confronts. For example, back in February 2007, shortly after Obama announced his presidential candidacy, the Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll showed that a majority of registered voters (52%) already considered Obama at least "somewhat qualified" to be president, and only about a third (32%) considered him "not very" or "not at all qualified." By September 2008, just after the party conventions, Obama had convinced two thirds (67%) of registered voters nationwide that he was at least somewhat qualified.


In the fall of 2008, the Pew Research Center applied a tougher measure, asking registered voters if they considered Obama "well qualified." Their tracking shows that Obama's fall campaign -- including, presumably, his performance in the debates -- continued to boost perceptions of his qualifications. Although registered voters were closely divided in early September, Obama's "well qualified" number rose from 47% to 56% by the final week of the campaign.


These results show that Obama was able to use his campaign to reassure voters about his qualifications for office, but they also show how deep a perceived hole Palin is now in. When Obama began his campaign in early 2007, only a third of voters (32%) considered him "not very" or "not at all qualified" to be president. Compare that to the 55% who say Palin is not "fit" for the presidency now or to the 52% to 59% who said she was not "prepared" or not "qualified" last October.

While the resignation may not cause Palin's overall ratings to drop, it certainly does nothing to dispel the existing doubts about her qualifications. My colleague Marc Ambinder summed up the contrast between Obama and Palin on this dimension earlier this week:

Obama's campaign attracted the Democratic base because of his identity and because of his stand against the Iraq war, but Obama's message was consistently forward-looking and targeted to independents who were watching the Democratic primaries. Obama did not have to face the conviction that he was not qualified -- something more than half of all Americans believe about Sarah Palin. Indeed, Obama ran for Senate and stayed in the Senate precisely because he knew he needed more experience; he did not resign from office at the point when people were questioning his experience.

PS: For those pondering Palin's potential, I recommend today's dueling op-eds from two Republican consultants, Mike Murphy (who argues that Palin is "the political train wreck that keeps on giving" and will likely lose in the 2012 primaries) and Roger Stone (who says Palin was wise to resign and "may just be up to the task" of a successful 2012 candidacy).

PPS: On Monday, I argued that Palin's base of support, which appears to be intact following the events of the past weekend, makes her "the Republican best positioned to emulate the tactical model employed by Barack Obama" in the 2008 primaries. In addition to the issues raised above, one factor I overlooked was the apparent popularity of Mike Huckabee with many of the same "base" voters. In fact, as noted by an alert reader, Huckabee's favorable rating among evangelical Republicans in the recent Rasmussen survey (89% favorable, including 56% strongly favorable) are as good or better than Palin's (84% favorable, 56% very favorable). When Rasmussen asked evangelical Republicans their preference for 2012, Huckabee received more support (35%) than Palin (21%), Romney (17%) or Gingrich (15%). Presumably, Huckabee's numbers in all-important Iowa are as strong or stronger.