Skepticism of Palin Growing, Poll Finds

By Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 2, 2008

With the vice presidential candidates set to square off today in their only scheduled debate, public assessments of Sarah Palin's readiness have plummeted, and she may now be a drag on the Republican ticket among key voter groups, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Tonight's heavily anticipated debate comes just five weeks after the popular Alaska governor entered the national spotlight as Sen. John McCain's surprise pick to be his running mate. Though she initially transformed the race with her energizing presence and a fiery convention speech, Palin is now a much less positive force: Six in 10 voters see her as lacking the experience to be an effective president, and a third are now less likely to vote for McCain because of her.

A month ago, voters rated Palin as highly as they did McCain or his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, but after weeks of intensive coverage and several perceived missteps, the shine has diminished.

Nearly a third of adults in a new poll from the Pew Research Center said they paid a lot of attention to Palin's interviews with CBS News's Katie Couric, a series that prompted grumbling among some conservative commentators about Palin's competency to be the GOP's vice presidential standard-bearer. The Pew poll showed views of Palin slipping over the past few days alone.

In the new Post-ABC poll, Palin matches the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., on empathy, one of McCain's clear deficits against Obama, while fewer than half of voters think she understands "complex issues."

But it is the experience question that may prove her highest hurdle, particularly when paired with widespread public concern about McCain's age. About half of all voters said they were uncomfortable with the idea of McCain taking office at age 72, and 85 percent of those voters said Palin does not have the requisite experience to be president.

The 60 percent who now see Palin as insufficiently experienced to step into the presidency is steeply higher than in a Post-ABC poll after her nomination early last month. Democrats and Republicans alike are now more apt to doubt her qualifications, but the biggest shift has come among independents.

In early September, independents offered a divided verdict on Palin's experience; now they take the negative view by about 2 to 1. Nearly two-thirds of both independent men and women in the new poll said Palin has insufficient experience to run the White House.

Obama was able for the first time to crack the 50 percent mark, albeit barely, on whether he has the experience to be president following Friday's presidential debate, and the question is one of Palin's central challenges as she prepares to face Biden in prime time before a national television audience.

More than two-thirds of voters in the Pew poll said they plan to watch the debate, far more than said they were going to turn on the vice presidential debate four years ago. The expectations are that Biden, a six-term senator, will win: Voters by a 19-point margin think he will prove to be the better debater.

In the new Post-ABC poll, majorities of conservatives and Republicans maintain that Palin has the necessary experience to step in as president, though those numbers are also down somewhat from early last month.

But a third of independent voters now indicate they are less likely to support McCain because of Palin, compared with 20 percent who said so in an ABC poll a month ago. Palin now repels more independents than she attracts to McCain. The share of independent women less apt to support McCain because of the Palin pick has more than doubled to 34 percent, while the percentage more inclined to support him is down eight points.

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