Partisanship Appears to Sway Opinions on Palin

By Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 6, 2008

Republicans and Democrats have deeply contrasting first impressions of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, suggesting partisanship, not gender, is paramount in the initial public reviews.

Overall, Palin, the governor of Alaska and the first woman to run on a Republican presidential ticket, gets positive marks in a new ABC News national poll, despite broad skepticism that she has the necessary experience to serve as president. Most Americans approve of her selection, and six in 10 of those polled said she made the right call to join the contest.

"I think it's great that we finally have a woman candidate that can be vice president," Margaret Brown, a 22-year-old Texan, said in a telephone interview. "She's likable, and she's not like a Washington insider."

Half of all those polled view Palin favorably and 37 percent hold negative opinions. Men are somewhat more apt to view her favorably, but that is mainly because women are far more likely to be Democrats.

"I think she's a likable person and says a good speech," said Gale Roy from Knoxville, Tenn., who supported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries. "But I can't think of anything in favor of [Palin]. I'm just of the opposite party."

In the new poll, it is underlying political attitudes that appear to dominate, just as they do in ratings of Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), the Democratic vice presidential nominee. Eighty-five percent of Republicans view Palin favorably, and nearly nine in 10 approve of her selection as Sen. John McCain's running mate. Among Democrats, 24 percent view her favorably and 57 percent disapprove of her selection.

For Elizabeth Seaburg, 23, another Clinton voter from Albuquerque, there's interest in Palin as a woman but little chance of supporting McCain on Election Day: "I'm not really aligned with her values. I'm not going to vote for McCain just because he picked a woman. Her values are polar opposite of mine.

"Her rhetoric sounded very, very much like what I'm used to hearing from Republicans," said Seaburg, who, like others interviewed for this article, participated in a previous Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Palin's ratings are highest among the groups already likely to be in the Republican camp, limiting the potential impact of the choice. Among conservative Republicans, 89 percent view her favorably, as do 81 percent of white evangelical Protestants. In both groups, large majorities hold "strongly favorable" opinions.

The poll, conducted the night after Palin accepted the second slot on the GOP ticket at the party's national convention in St. Paul, Minn., finds that 55 percent of all Americans said her selection makes no difference in their support for McCain. Even more -- 67 percent -- said so of Democratic nominee Barack Obama's choice of Biden. In both cases, those who said the vice presidential choices would increase the odds of supporting one of the newly minted presidential nominees are those who were already predisposed to supporting that candidate.

Among independents, 53 percent have favorable views of Palin, and about two-thirds approve of McCain's choice. However, independents are only evenly divided, as are all Americans, as to whether the surprise pick makes them more or less confident -- 44 to 37 percent -- about the decisions McCain would make as president.

Partisan lenses also color views of whether Palin has the necessary experience to serve as president if that became necessary and whether the news media have treated her fairly in her first week in the spotlight. Forty-two percent of all Americans think she is sufficiently prepared. Among Republicans, however, 74 percent believe she is, a figure that is more than three times higher than among Democrats.

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