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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 03:54 PM ET, 07/06/2009

Palin: Everywoman or Conservative Darling?

Following up on today's back-and-forth about whether Sarah Palin represents the "democratic ideal" of the everywoman (see Ross Douthat here; John Sides here), we've assembled some data from last year's campaign.

Favorability ratings taken in Washington Post-ABC News pre-election polls found some measure of the education divide Douthat suggests in the New York Times (near the end of the campaign, 57 percent of whites without a college degree held a favorable view of Palin, it was 46 percent among those with at least a four-year degree), but that gap is more muted in the newer Pew data, and in assessing other aspects of the nation's best known hockey mom's leadership abilities, Post-ABC polling and network exit polls show that ideology is a greater driver of opinion than education or income.

Exit pollsters probed voters on whether Palin was qualified to handle the presidency, a measure that goes a bit deeper than the like/dislike dynamic of favorability ratings. At first glance, voters' education does seem to make a difference in views of Palin's ability to handle the presidency: 39 percent of whites with college degrees said she was ready to take the reins, compared with 50 percent of those without that much formal education. (This analysis is limited to white voters, to isolate the effect of other characteristics.)

But that disparity largely vanishes when ideology is taken into account. Among conservative whites, 73 percent of those with and without college degrees considered the soon-to-be-ex-governor able to handle the presidency. Among liberal or moderate whites, 22 percent of college grads considered her ready compared with a third of those without degrees.

Similarly, ideology seems to trump household income as well: when split by ideology, there are only marginal differences among white voters based on annual income.

These exit poll data seemed to confirm data from a late-October Washington Post-ABC News poll that also found perceptions of Palin's ability to understand voters' problems more sharply divided along ideological lines than by education or income. In that poll, 44 percent of non-college whites who called themselves liberal or moderate said Palin understood the problems of people like them, far fewer than the 83 percent of those seeing themselves as conservative who said so. There was a much slimmer gap more broadly between white non-college and college voters about whether Palin could relate (59 to 53 percent).

But the education split did appear to carry some weight on favorability. Among white conservatives, positive views among those with and without college degrees converged by late October, with about eight in 10 in both groups holding a favorable opinion. But the divide held among liberal and moderate whites. As Election Day approached, just 28 percent of white liberals and moderates with a college degree held a favorable view of Palin. Among those with less formal education, 44 percent had a positive take.

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  03:54 PM ET, 07/06/2009

Categories:  Exit polls, Exit polls, Exit polls

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