Poll: Palin turns people off

By E.J. Dionne
Tuesday, August 3, 2010; 2:39 PM

Over and over, politicians in Washington have condemned "earmarks," language stuck into bills designed to provide money for special projects supported by individual members of Congress. Yet politicians keep fighting for those earmarks -- and there are some members who denounce earmarks in the abstract but then work hard for those that happen to benefit their folks back home.

That may seem hypocritical, but now we know why politicians do it: Voters like politicians better when they show them the money. A new Pew Research Center/National Journal poll released today found that 53 percent of Americans are more likely to vote for candidates with a record of bringing government money and projects to their districts; only 12 percent were less likely to vote for such candidates. The remaining third say the money makes no difference.

That's a 4-to-1 ratio in favor of delivering the goods. This suggests that voters themselves may actually welcome it when their members have a double-standard: fight spending in the abstract, but make sure we get our share of what goes out. Alternatively, voters may be cynical enough (or realistic enough -- take your pick) to calculate that if money is going to be passed around, they want a piece of it for their communities. And, yes, there are still voters out there who believe government can do good things, and they especially like it when those good things are tangible and close-to-home. The moral: expect to see a lot of ads this fall in which incumbents facing tough races talk a lot about the projects they've won for their districts.

Personally, I wish there were less hypocrisy and phony moralism about the whole thing. Members will always fight for money for their constituents, and I'm weary of empty posturing about earmarks. But I don't expect it to stop.

But if earmarks help candidates, Sarah Palin does not.

Another striking finding from the poll: 38 percent said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate she campaigned for, while only 18 percent said her support would make them more likely to vote for that candidate. President Obama had a mixed impact: 27 percent said Obama's campaigning would make them more likely to vote for a candidate, 28 percent less likely.

Within those numbers are two others sets of figures suggesting that a lot of Republicans will ask Palin to stay home: Among independents, 36 percent said Palin would make them less likely to support a candidate, while only 15 percent said her support would help that candidate. And Palin turns off more Democrats than she turns on Republicans: 41 percent of Republicans said they'd be more likely to vote for a Palin-backed candidate, but 58 percent of Democrats say they'd be less likely to support one of her favorites.

On net, association with the Tea Party also hurts a candidate more than it helps: 31 percent said they were less likely to vote for a Tea Party supporter, while 22 percent were more likely to give such a candidate their vote. These numbers are yet another indication that the Tea Party represents roughly the right-wing quarter of the American electorate, which was there long before Obama became president.

The bottom line: Count on many Democratic candidates to associate their Republican opponents with Palin and the Tea Party. These numbers suggest that the influence of both peaked during this year's Republican primaries. Now, they are a net negative for the GOP. And, yes, count on all incumbents to brag about that bridge or building they brought to a street near you.

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