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The Elephant in the Room

Examining the state of the Republican Party

Palin particularly popular among fans of Limbaugh and Beck

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The Washington Post's Dan Balz and Jon Cohen conduct focus groups with Independents and Republicans in Colorado to gauge their feelings on Sarah Palin.

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By Dan Balz and Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 30, 2009

Sarah Palin may or may not run for president in 2012, but she is already the overwhelming favorite in the Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck primaries.

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In a new Washington Post poll, Palin beats other GOP leaders on two questions: who best represents the party's core values, and who Republicans would vote for if the presidential nomination battle were held today. But she has particular appeal to the loyal followers of Limbaugh and Beck, two of the most popular conservative talk show hosts in the country.

Overall, 18 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents cited her as the person most representative of the party's core values, the highest percentage among prominent Republican figures. Among those who regularly listen to Limbaugh, however, Palin was cited by 48 percent, and among Beck's viewers, it was 35 percent, far surpassing others.

The pattern held when Republicans considered their possible choices for 2012. Palin led other Republicans, but with the support of just 17 percent. Forty-five percent of regular Limbaugh listeners said they would vote for her if their state's primary or caucus were held today, however, as did a third of those who regularly tune in to Beck's radio or television programs.

More than four in 10 in the poll said they watch or listen to Beck at least sometimes, with 18 percent following him "regularly." One in eight (12 percent) listens frequently to Limbaugh.

Those who identify as Republicans today see themselves as more conservative politically than those who said so during the last years of the presidency of George W. Bush, and this increasing conservatism shows up in Palin's draw. The former Alaska governor appeals strongly to the "very conservative," to regular churchgoers and to white evangelical Protestants.

Almost half of all Republican and GOP-leaning independents alike said they think Palin has had a good effect on their party, compared with 20 percent who think she has had a negative effect. Eighty percent of Limbaugh listeners and 70 percent of Beck viewers said she has had a positive impact.

Nearly all Republicans have sympathy for Palin for the treatment she has received from the news media since she burst onto the national stage as John McCain's vice presidential running mate last year. Overall, 87 percent said the media have treated her unfairly.

There is, however, no middle ground for Palin. As much as she is liked by many Republicans, she is disliked almost as strongly by many independents. In a pair of focus groups conducted in Aurora, Colo., recently -- one with Republicans and the other with independents -- Palin provoked strong and conflicting opinions, as she does in national polling.

Dianne Noda, 55, a Republican who operates a photo business from her home, said "the media toasted" Palin when she appeared on the scene a year ago and portrayed her as someone who wasn't ready for the national stage. "But I do think that she has a lot of merit and I like the fact that a regular person can be -- I mean, someone who actually goes to the store and buys diapers -- can be someone who we could put in a position like that," she said.

Republican Judy Danaher, 59, a professional hairdresser, likes Palin's Christian values and her feel for ordinary people. "She has more feeling for the people," Danaher said.

Independents saw a totally different Palin. "I don't feel that she understands where the average American is at," said Kandice Winfield, 26, a stay-at-home mother of five.

"She's another politician that's kind of out of touch with normal people, even though she's a mom and has kids," said Chris Williams, 41, who works in computer operations.

Randy Snyder, 52, who runs a family landscaping business, said, "I think she was a gimmick that backfired on the Republican Party."

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.


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